Baseball, Local Sports, Morgantown, Sports, University, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Morgantown caught baseball fever this spring

Nothing breeds excitement quite like success and there was plenty of baseball to be excited about in Morgantown this spring.

From the Mountaineers winning their first-ever regular-season Big 12 title to the University Hawks making it back to the state tournament, there was loads of success on baseball diamonds around town, and the excitement quickly followed.

The first time I noticed the buzz around baseball this spring came when WVU defeated TCU 5-4 on April 21 in front of 3,441 fans at Mon County Ballpark. That was the first time the Mountaineers cracked 3,000 fans this season, a feat they would repeat seven more times, twice eclipsing 4,000. 

What struck me about that crowd wasn’t just its size, but its intensity. This wasn’t a bunch of people lazily showing up to a ballgame just because of the nice weather or to get a giveaway hat. It was 3,000 engaged fans, living and dying on every pitch, loudly booing former Mountaineer Austin Davis — who transferred to TCU last off-season — and even tailgating in the parking lot beforehand.

“That was unbelievable,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said after the game. “I’ve been telling people for years, don’t just come for entertainment purposes, come to help the Mountaineers win, and they dang sure did, man. It was just a great college baseball game with a great atmosphere.”

WVU was 26-11 entering that series against the Horned Frogs and 5-4 in the Big 12. Including that series, the Mountaineers went 9-2 down the stretch at home, never again dipping below 2,000 fans at any home game. 

At the end of the regular season, four of the top-10 most attended games in Mon County Ballpark history and eight of the top 15 came from this season, including the top-overall attendance record of 4,387 on May 6 against Oklahoma. 

“What an unbelievable atmosphere,” Mazey said after the Mountaineers’ 14-2 victory against Penn State in front of 4,070 fans on April 25. “People are having so much fun watching West Virginia baseball right now.

“I can’t imagine there’s been a better time in the history of West Virginia baseball with atmosphere — we’re winning games and people are having fun. It’s just been electric the last couple of weeks.”

Five of the other games in the top 10 are from the 2019 season when WVU hosted its first-ever NCAA Regional and had 11th-overall MLB draft pick Alek Manoah toeing the rubber. The Mountaineers are in contention to host a regional again this summer and have another superstar player in their first-ever Big 12 Player of the Year, sophomore J.J. Wetherholt.

It wasn’t just the Mountaineers that people were excited about this spring. When the high school baseball playoffs began a few weeks ago, the crowds started showing up at Mylan Park as well. The home of both the University and Morgantown baseball teams, two of the best in Class AAA this season, parking came at a premium as both baseball and softball teams were playing in their section tournaments in the same week in April.

Morgantown baseball breezed through its sectional, led by senior shortstop/reliever Ryan Fluharty, while University fought tooth and nail to get past perennial powerhouse Bridgeport, setting up an all-Mon County regional series with a trip to Charleston on the line.

“WVU is having a heck of a year and bringing a lot of excitement about baseball, and now you have your two local high schools competing to go to states,” MHS coach Pat Sherald said in the lead-up to the regional. “It’s just an exciting time for baseball in this area.”

The much-anticipated series did not disappoint. Fans filled Dale Miller Field on Monday and Shilling Field on Tuesday and were treated to two exciting contests.

On Monday University’s offense, powered by WVU football signee and state player of the year candidate Noah Braham, put up a baker’s dozen in a 13-1 win. Game 2 was a dramatic affair as Morgantown scored three runs in the seventh inning to win 6-4, the go-ahead hit a two-run home run by WVU baseball signee Aaron Jamison in his first game back from injury.

Fittingly, Wednesday’s series finale took place at Mon County Ballpark, the epicenter of this season’s baseball fever, thanks to an invitation from the stadium’s summer tenant, the WV Black Bears.

“This is always a great atmosphere; it’s an amazing facility,” Braham said after the game there. “Probably one of the best college baseball facilities — it’s immaculate. The energy’s crazy — there were so many fans here.”

Fans again came out in force on Wednesday, filling the ballpark with a more-than-respectable crowd, especially for a high school game. They again hung on every pitch of the contest as the Hawks won 13-8 to secure their first state tournament appearance since 2009.

“Really cool for the community; amazing turnout,” UHS skipper Brad Comport noted. “A great, energetic and engaged crowd — you couldn’t ask for anything more.”

While WVU will most certainly make a regional, Thursday’s elimination from the Big 12 tournament ensures they will not host this season and University will end its year one way or another in Charleston when the WVSSAC state tournament begins at Go-Mart Ballpark next Thursday. 

Morgantown will not be without baseball for very long, however, as the aforementioned Black Bears being their MLB Draft League season on June 1 and have their home opener at Mon County Ballpark on June 6. Morgantown Post 2 will also kick off the American Legion season next week on June 7 at Dale Miller Field at Mylan Park.

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