MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If Randy Mazey had been an author rather than the baseball coach at West Virginia University, the ending to this baseball season would have been better.
He found himself caught up in a best-selling plot line, his team and his sport trying to make their way through a viral pandemic that threatened life itself. Along the way he had to go through personal tragedy, when his son Weston was involved in a collision on the baseball field that left him hospitalized with a brain injury and going through rehab.
There were tears, of course, through the pandemic and the injury, smiles of joy and warm feelings when Weston surprised the underdog Mountaineer team at the Big 12 tournament, in Oklahoma City at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, where the event is being played for the final time before moving to Arlington next year.
That venue hs become a second home to Mazey’s Mountaineers over the years, so what better way to say goodbye than by having WVU win the tournament as the No. 8 seed and go on to make a run in the NCAA Tournament?
“Every time we come here we usually play pretty well and are super competitive,” Mazey noted. “We played for the championship twice. It’s kind of like a golfer who shoots a better round on his favorite course. This has been a good place for us to play. I think we always play with confidence here.”
Certainly, Mazey had the scene set and the plot laid out, especially when hours after his son’s emotional reunion with the team he loved they overcame a 5-0 deficit to beat Kansas to get into the main draw, which cast them as the sentimental favorite against the team that all reason said would prevail.
Texas was the No. 2 team in the nation and even though WVU had beaten them in the first game of the season’s closing series, the best win in the program history, to think they could do it a second time made no sense.
Yet it was Mazey writing the book here and he sent his ace, Jackson Wolf, to the mound and as he had done in that last series, he overwhelmed Texas and beat them, 3-1, with a complete game, 138-pitch gem.
And so it was they moved forward to face Oklahoma State. Had they played the No. 22 Cowboys on time, who knows what might have happened the way fate was lining up in WVU’s corner? However, weather forced a postponment of the scheduled game and they had play a doubleheader the next day.
Did they lose the momentum? Who knows? What they did lose was the ball game, 12-2, and that put them into a second game on Friday and who should it be against?
Texas, that’s who. And he and WVU almost pulled it off, being eliminated by Texas, 3-2, around midnight.
Mazey’s plot had it go down to the wire, with his plan being to take a tired pitching staff and start his bullpen first, offering up a wonderful explanation as to why he started Jacob Watters for the first time.
“We just lined them up 1 through 10, whoever we thought our best pitchers were, and pitched them in that order. You just can’t lose two games in one day without pitching those guys,” he said. “They just had to go out there and I told them to give it all they got and that when they ran out of gas, I’d put the next guy in. I thought they all pitched their hearts out.”
They did, but in the end, as it’s been all year, walks killed them. They walked 10 Texans and you can’t beat the No. 2 team in the nation giving them that many baserunners.
“It wasn’t nerves at all,” Mazey said of the walks coming from guys pitching out of their comfort zone. “We just haven’t thrown strikes consistently the whole season. They weren’t any more nervous today than they have been all year. We just have to get back to work and get some guys in the strike zone.
“You know Jake Watters and Madison Jeffrey went out there and beat the heck out of their bats,” Mazey continued. “They didn’t put a ball in play until 9 o’clock. I think the score was 2-1 when they did and I think the first ball they put in play was a bunt. We were either walking them or striking them out … and that’s what Watters and Jeffrey have done all year long.
“Those guys have special arms and can miss bats. We just have to get to work on commanding their fastballs a little better.”
They gave WVU a chance to win, leaving the tying run at third base.
In fiction, he’d have scored and the Mountaineers would have completed a comeback but unfortunately, that story wasn’t written.
Reality has been strange enough.