WVU baseball team utilizes speed on the bases

MORGANTOWN — The only hesitation, WVU center fielder Brandon White said, comes in looking for the right time to run.

It is not a matter of getting the OK from WVU head baseball coach Randy Mazey, who seems to have a certain appreciation in watching his players run and steal bases, a sort of throwback to an era when the game was built around speed and not power.

“Speed changes the game and it changes the way the other team pitches and the way it plays defense,” Mazey said, firmly planted in 2018 and not in the 1980s. “I wish we could do more of that actually, but you try so hard not to make outs on the bases.”

And so we look at just one inning through the work of White’s legs — the third inning during a 12-1 victory against Pitt last week — in which he was nearly a one-man speed show.

First, he beat out a high chopper to the shortstop for an infield single.

Then, the hesitation, as the sophomore from Winter Springs, Fla., looked for the right moment.

“We have a group of guys on this team that we know pretty much have the green light to go,” said White, who is tied for seventh in the Big 12 with 11 stolen bases this season. “When I’m on [base], I try and get in the pitcher’s head. I want him thinking about me.”

After watching teammate Darius Hill flyout, White was off and running, stealing second base on the first pitch to Marques Inman and then stole third on the very next pitch.

White scored moments later on Inman’s ground ball.

“He single-handedly scored a run on his own with his speed,” Mazey said.

As the Mountaineers (16-17) travel to Pitt (19-14), at 6 p.m. April 17, at Charles L. Cost Field for the rematch, they do so as a team confident in its running ability.

WVU is second in the Big 12 with 55 stolen bases, trailing only Kansas State — the Mountaineers will host the Wildcats for a swift three-game series starting Friday, at Monongalia County Ballpark — and could feature a lineup of four starters all with the ability to steal bases.

It starts with WVU leadoff hitter Braden Zarbnisky, who is fifth in the Big 12 with 15 stolen bases, while only being caught stealing twice.

Add White, who either bats second or ninth and WVU shortstop Jimmy Galusky (eight steals) is also a threat.

“I would also put Kyle Gray in there, too” Mazey said of WVU’s second baseman, who is 7-for-9 this season in stolen-base attempts.

It’s not that the Mountaineers can’t hit for power. WVU is fourth in the Big 12 with 30 home runs and Inman has hit four of them over his last eight games.

But, if chicks dig the long ball, well, these Mountaineers dig a good stolen base.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who can run and it allows us to be more aggressive,” Galusky said. “It gives us a chance to get into more scoring opportunities and guys have been coming through with the bats later in the inning to drive someone in.”

The speed game long ago left as a key strategy in Major League Baseball, a fact that is not lost on the college level.

“You’re not going to see too many 100-stolen base guys in the big leagues anymore,” Mazey said. “It beats their bodies up too much. Speed kills at this level. It’s really the only skill you can use on both offense and defense.”

And it’s a skill that pushes the fleet-of-foot Mountaineers to run even faster.

“We’ve never raced, but we all like to compare our 100-yard dash times,” said White, who Mazey said was probably his fastest player. “That’s become pretty competitive for all of us.

“Who would win would be tough. Galusky is right there with me and Zarb can fly. It would be close.”

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