Baseball, Sports, WVU Sports

After winning Big 12 awards, West Virginia seeks to become NCAA regional host

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Holding the Big 12 Coach of the Year trophy made Randy Mazey feel “half-embarrassed.” Luckily his ace Alek Manoah was nearby to shade some of the limelight.

Manoah was unanimously voted the league’s top pitcher Tuesday, and No. 19 West Virginia opened its stay in Bricktown by posing with two pieces of hardware.

If they stick around through Sunday, the fourth-seeded Mountaineers (34-18) could add a Big 12 tournament title and almost assuredly earn the right to host an NCAA regional. For a team currently 15th in the RPI, winning even two or three games this week might be enough to bring postseason baseball to Morgantown.

“But I don’t like to leave it in the hands of the judges,” Mazey said. “I would rather just win this thing and feel good about our chances.”

Manoah tops the conference in ERA (1.91) and strikeouts (125) and is tied for the lead with eight wins. He became the first Big 12 pitcher since 2003 to record 15 strikeouts in back-to-back games.

Palming his award outside Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, the 6-foot-5 right-hander reflected on achieving one of his personal preseason goals.

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Manoah said. “You work really hard to go out there, and having every coach in the league feel the same way, it’s a huge blessing.”

So as to remain on a full week’s rest, Manoah won’t pitch until Thursday. Mazey will go Nick Snyder (8-1, 1.95) in Wednesday’s first-round game against fifth-seeded Kansas (31-24).

“To have Nick stay on schedule, to have AK stay on schedule, to have (Kade) Strowd stay on schedule, everything’s lined up for us as good as it can be,” Mazey said.

West Virginia took two of three from the Jayhawks in the regular season.

No. 1 seed Texas Tech (36-15) and eighth-seeded Kansas State (25-31) represent the rest of WVU’s four-team division.

On the opposite side of the bracket, second-seeded Baylor (33-15) faces seventh-seeded Oklahoma (33-21), and No. 3-seeded Oklahoma State (32-17) meets sixth-seeded TCU (29-24).

Both divisions are double-elimination until Sunday’s winner-take-all matchup of division winners.

MORE: Complete Big 12 baseball awards

Mazey previously won coach of the year honors in the Big South (1996 at Charleston Southern) and Conference USA (2004 at East Carolina).

When Mazey arrived in 2013, West Virginia hadn’t qualified for the NCAAs since 1996. Now he’s on the verge of steering the program into its second NCAA regional in three years.

It’s essentially a pressure-free week, with the only question being whether the Mountaineers can elevate themselves into a hosting role.

“It’s a good feeling coming here and knowing that we’re going to be playing next weekend, but it’s a big deal for us to host a regional,” Mazey said. “I think that would change the face of our program.”

Catcher Ivan Gonzalez, right fielder Darius Hill, first baseman Marques Inman, closer Sam Kessler and DH Paul McIntosh were second-team All-Big 12 selections for the Mountaineers.

“When your best players — like AK, Darius and Pudge — are team culture guys, that’s when you can accomplish anything,” Mazey said. “If your best players are selfish and don’t do the right things off the field, its impossible to keep a team together.”

Twitter @GAllanTaylor