WVU Riding Confidence Surge Into Postseason
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If coach Randy Mazey could have drawn up a road map to this season before it started, it would have been as it has played out. That is why he says he “couldn’t be more confident in this group than I am” going into the Big 12 Championship.
“I tell the team all the time that you want to be playing your best baseball at the end of the year,” Mazey said after completing the Big 12 regular season. “Everything that you go through during the season — the wins, the losses, the traveling, getting walked off to walking off, learning about your team, shuffling lineups — it’s all really, really valuable experience, and if you learn from it, that’s how you play your best baseball at the end of the year. I think we are right now.”
And they will have to because the road to the Big 12 title is a tough one. They have drawn the No. 4 seed and play No. 5 seed Kansas at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark to open the double-elimination tournament.
If they beat the Jayhawks, who finished the regular season at 31-24 and 12-12 in Big 12 play as compared to WVU’s 34-18 record and 13-11 conference mark, they would play again at 5 p.m. on Thursday — likely against No. 1 seed and regular season champion Texas Tech, which finished 36-15 and 16-8. The Red Raiders play No. 8 seed Kansas State in the opening round.
The Mountaineers closed the regular season winning four in a row, seven of eight and going 20-7 over the final 27 games, including taking two of three from Tech at home.
Mazey isn’t alone with his confidence entering the tournament. Darius Hill, the senior team leader, feels exactly the same way.
“Coach says you want to play well at the end of the season,” he said after sweeping two games from George Washington to close out the regular season. “We’re playing well at the right time. We’re going into a tournament we have always done pretty well in. Whether we get sent here or somewhere else, I think we’re pretty confident of how we can play.”
Much of the confidence came from Hill himself.
On May 5, Hill hit “The Shot Heard Round West Virginia,” a two-run, walk-off home run to cap a 6-5, come-from-behind victory over TCU at Mon County Ballpark.
“The thing that propelled us these last five games or so was Darius’s walk off home run against TCU when we came back and won that game,” Mazey acknowledged. “Sometimes it takes one swing of the bat to not only get you going but the whole team going. That changed our offense.
“I hate to put too much emphasis on one hit, but that may go down as the biggest hit in the history of Mon County Ballpark at this point.”
WVU had pitched well all season with Alek Manoah, who is scheduled to pitch the second game of the tournament after Nick Snyder pitches the opener, headlining the group. Manoah, who set a single-season strikeout record with 125 in 94 1/3 innings of work, is 8-3 and Snyder is 8-1 with WVU having won all 10 of his starts.
The offense sputtered early in the season, but that has changed in recent days.
“I knew going into the season this was the type of team we had. It’s hard for people to understand when you don’t get outside to practice, you’re on the road all the time … it takes you time to get in the flow of everything,” Mazey said.
“All the travel on the road, it’s hard to win. You get home you are tired and have to recover from that. But we’re playing our best baseball when you are supposed to be playing your best baseball.”
WVU went through much of the year without a .300 hitter but both Hill and Tyler Doanes closed strongly and finished at .308.
It was a resourceful team that found ways to create runs, stealing 87 bases in 52 games, and getting strong work out of the bullpen from Sam Kessler to close out games. Kessler finished with eight saves and four wins, to play a hand in 12 of the 34 victories.
“We’ve had a lot of guys between .250 and .300, which you wouldn’t think is great but, boy, we find a way to score runs late in games. That’s leadership and trusting your teammates,” Mazey said.
“That’s veteran experience and not getting caught up in your batting average but instead in trying to win games,” he continued. “I really like the way the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. as we sit here today our best lineup is on the field, which is super encouraging.”
WVU is hopeful that a strong showing in the Big 12 Tournament could result in their hosting a regional in Morgantown.