For WVU, Speed Is The Game
MORGANTOWN — Today, when people think baseball, they think home run.
Batting average doesn’t matter. Launch angle does. Exit velocity does.
The game has become a power game – pitchers are marveled at for their velocity, not their ERA, hitters for how far they hit the ball, not how often.
But there remains intact another side of the game, a more subtle side upon which West Virginia has placed its baseball fortunes and rode into hosting an NCAA Regional for the first time since 1955 with a No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
That would be speed. That would be defense. That would be pitching.
The truth be known, the key to great teams is found up the middle … catching, pitching, second base, shortstop, centerfield.
Think about the great teams – The Boys of Summer in Brooklyn: Camperella, Robinson, Reese, Snider and a pitching staff built around Don Newcombe and Preacher Roe.
The Big Red Machine: Bench, Morgan, Concepcion, Geronimo and a deep pitching staff. The greatest of the Yankee dynasty teams of Berra, Rizzuto, Coleman, DiMaggio and Reynolds, Ford, Lopat.
Doesn’t matter where you look from St. Louis with McCarver, Dick Groat, Javier and Flood along with Bob Gibson or the Orioles with Ellie Hendricks, Mark Belanger, Paul Blair and Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, Dennis Martinez.
Home runs help, but they are too sporadic to create championships.
Randy Mazey, WVU’s coach, understands that and has crafted this team to that belief.
“Right up the middle, pitching and catching and those guys in the middle of the infield – Tevin Tucker and Tyler Doanes – along with Brandon White in centerfield, that’s a really special group,” he said.
The numbers tell the tale.
Offensively, this is simply an average team. Among 300 NCAA teams it ranks 184th in team batting average, 160th in runs, 163rd in hits, 96th in home runs, 124th in slugging percentage.
Doesn’t seem like a Top 20 team, but there’s so much more.
They are 30th in stolen bases, 24th in sacrifice flies, sixth in hits allowed, eighth in strikeouts, 23rd in ERA, 41st in strikeouts-towalks ratio, 42nd in WHIP (Walks and hits per inning pitched).
They push the issue of offense and play defense behind a strong pitching staff.
“It’s amazing,” says catcher Ivan Gonzalez. “We play aggressive. Any time we get to steal a free bag, it always turns into a run. Guys come off the bench and steal a base for us, like Austin Davis. That guy is hungry for the next base.
“It puts pressure on the defense. Even a routine ground ball, they might sail it, they might boot it … anything like that can make a difference in a regional.”
Like scoring two runs without an error on a squeeze bunt?
“Yeah,” said Gonzalez, who saw them do that in Big 12 Tournament.
“We have speed,” Mazey said. “We still have a chance to steal 100 bases, which is probably harder to do than hit 100 home runs. And it’s fun to coach that way. It changes the way people play against you when they know you have that speed.”
And then there’s that defense.
Junior pitcher Alek Manoah knows how Brandon White plays centerfield unlike anyone else in the college game.
“That guy walked on his freshman year it was like a walking highlight reel his freshman year,” the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year said. “There were balls that were hit that the left fielder was jogging toward thinking there was no shot and Brandon would come out of nowhere and catch them.
“It was like, if this guy can just hit .200, he’ll start. Well, he’s been hitting .250 for three years. His hitting has been great. His defense is so amazing sometime you take it for granted. The ball goes up and you look and say, ‘Don’t worry, B-White’s got it.’ We love him out there. He basically got us into that championship game this weekend.”
White says there’s no secret to what he does.
“Practice, practice … taking a lot of balls and taking it to the game. You just go out and lock in,” he said.
He’s been doing it since an extremely astute Florida high school coach moved him from second base to centerfield.
And when he says he practices, he practices everything, even the dangerous diving catches in squad games.
“I’m diving all the time in intrasquad games and practice,” White said. “Coach Mazey is always yelling ‘Lay out!’ We’re always practicing that.”
And that is what the Mountaineers take into the regional, a proven formula for victory.