Mazey Emotional, Reflective As West Virginia Snaps Streak Of Missing NCAAs
By Matt Keller
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The emotion was evident in both Randy Mazey’s speech and his expressions.
West Virginia’s head coach, through misty eyes and a voice that broke more than once, tried to put the Mountaineers’ first NCAA Tournament bid in 21 years into proper perspective. That it was also the program’s first ever at-large selection – meaning WVU was one of 33 teams that qualified based upon its total body of work and not simply a postseason title – simply added to the circumstance.
“When we all got together in August, we really believed we had an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done before. Who gets that opportunity?” Mazey said. “West Virginia had never received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in 125 years of baseball. When an opportunity like that presents itself, it doesn’t happen by accident. You have to commit to it, you have to take pride in it, you have to work toward it. But the first thing you have to do is make a decision that you want to work toward it. That’s what this team did. The proof is in the pudding that they made the decision to do this.”
Especially after the heartbreak of previous seasons. In 2014, the Mountaineers were loaded with major league draft picks, but a late season swoon ruined the bid. Last year, West Virginia pushed top-seeded TCU to the brink, rallying from an 8-0 deficit to lead 9-8 entering the ninth inning of the Big 12 Championship. But the Horned Frogs won the game in extra innings, swiping the automatic bid and putting the Mountaineers on the outside looking in as the first team out of the tournament.
It truly couldn’t have been any closer. And now, finally, an upperclass that was in diapers when the Mountaineers last reached the NCAA postseason in 1996 has taken the program back. A No. 2 seed in the Winston-Salem regional hosted by top-seeded Wake Forest, West Virginia faces three-seed Maryland at 2 p.m. on Friday.
“Let that be a lesson to everybody out there. If you really want to do something special, you can,” Mazey said. “You just have to make the decision and back it up with your actions. This team did that, and I’m super proud of them. This is a moment in time that these kids will never forget, and the administration and the community and Mountaineer fans everywhere. That’s a feeling that’s hard to duplicate.”
Just how far West Virginia has come is difficult to measure tangibly. Sure, the remnants of a historic – and vastly outdated – Hawley Field remain, a nod to the yesteryear of a program whose facilities were subpar even for the Big East. What’s replaced it, the $21 million Mon County Ballpark, has been worth it’s weight in the gold mine of recruiting. There’s a symbolic meaning there, too, Hawley Field still literally standing in the shadows of other, more successful programs like basketball and women’s soccer, while Mon County Ballpark sits across the Mon River, atop a hillside and overlooking the campus.
The upgrade in coaching staff was immediately evident, as was the budget, which finally allotted the full 11.7 scholarships allowable by the NCAA, and didn’t nickel and dime. All three of those facets mixed to recruit a better – and better prepared – student-athlete, with Mazey finding the right formula of talent, work ethic and dogged determination that has West Virginia back in the hunt for national respect.
“We knew it was going to be difficult,” Mazey said. “We knew this day was coming. We were impatient and we were teased. In the last couple years, we thought we had a chance to get in (the NCAA Tournament) and didn’t. That was frustrating. But if you look at the programs that are going to Omaha consistently now, when they made a decision to be good at baseball, then they became good at baseball. It’s a process. As much as you’d like to think you can go to bed one night and wake up the next and it’s different, it’s still a process. It’s frustrating to go through at times and you have to be super patient with it.”
Consider the virtue rewarded. Now, the Mountaineers get a chance to avenge a 7-6 midseason loss to Maryland. The programs have met 64 times – including a 7-6 Terrapin win in College Park this year – and in a tournament with exactly that many teams, it seems only fitting that this is the 65th such meeting. Four-seed UM-Baltimore County rounds out the field in the double-elimination format, to be played over four days.
“We’ve done great. I can’t ask for anything more from the administration to the facilities and the support from the community,” Mazey said. “I have such great people around me. You can’t have success in my position if you don’t have that. The people around you are what make you good. The comradery and the loyalty, the kids see that.”