MORGANTOWN — Over the course of 52 games played in the rain, snow and heat, Randy Mazey has brought the WVU baseball team on the brink of history.
The Mountaineers (39-13, 15-6 Big 12) traveled to Austin, Texas on Tuesday armed with a No. 6 national ranking — the highest in school history — and needing just one win in three games against Texas to secure at least a share of their first-ever Big 12 title.
Game 1 at Texas is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“There’s nothing that they haven’t done yet, God, they’re so impressive in the way they bounce back from stuff,” Mazey said following WVU’s 5-3 win against Texas Tech on Sunday. “The way we pitch, the way we hit, the way we run the bases and play defense; we’re checking just about every box you have to check to be a great team.”
Except for Wake Forest, Arkansas, LSU, Stanford and Florida, the Mountaineers are looking down at every other school in the country, quite a statement for a school that is on pace to make just its fifth trip to the NCAA tournament in the last 30 years.
“Nothing is over,” Mazey was quick to point out. “You can’t feel too good about it and stop playing. Thursday’s game just became the most important game of the year, so we’ve got to start preparing for that.”
WVU hosted a NCAA regional in 2019, armed with a future MLB All-Star pitcher in Alek Manoah, which was thought to be the program’s crowning moment.
Except Mazey and the Mountaineers kept building.
A year ago, WVU set a program record with 14 wins in Big 12 play, yet was snubbed by the selection committee.
In 2023, WVU now has surpassed it with 15 conference wins.
“Not that it means anything,” Mazey said. “It didn’t do us any good last year.”
The Mountaineers don’t have a Manoah on the mound, but they have J.J. Wetherholt at second base and a team built around him that has more than held its own.
Wetherholt leads the nation with a .466 batting average, but he’s closing in on Big 12 Player of the Year honors, because he also leads the conference in stolen bases (35), hits (90), runs (64), slugging percentage (.829) and on-base percentage (.530).
He’s done all of that while also missing five games with a dislocated thumb.
Then you throw in transfer pitcher Blaine Traxel, who leads the nation in complete games (5) and innings pitched (94.2).
Grant Hussey and Caleb McNeely have combined for 25 home runs.
Shortstop Tevin Tucker is having a career year with a .331 batting average, while transfer Landon Wallace has thrived in his first season in Morgantown, batting .329 with nine home runs and 46 RBIs.
Braden Barry saw his 12-game hit streak end Sunday against the Red Raiders, but he’s been an important offensive fixture with his .304 average, seven home runs and 21 stolen bases.
WVU’s bullpen has been stellar with Carlson Reed accounting for seven saves, while middle relievers David Hagaman, Noah Short, Maxx Yehl, Aidan Major and Keegan Allen have combined for a 10-3 record.
Those relief pitchers have a combined ERA of 3.25.
If the 2019 version of WVU was supposed to be the highlight, someone forgot to tell Mazey’s bunch this season, which could become just the third team in program history to host an NCAA regional.
“I don’t have any idea,” Mazey said when asked if WVU had done enough to be a regional host this season. “Never leave it in the hands of the judges is my rule.
“We’re not going to worry about that. We’ve spent the whole second half of the season trying to keep from thinking about that. Now is no time to start. We still have a big weekend down in Austin.”