By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The metamorphosis of the West Virginia University baseball program has been both swift and startling, going from a team in which there was little to no interest throughout the state to one that has won over the state to the point that it is setting attendance records.
Picked last in the Big 12, it goes into the next-to-last weekend of the regular season in a three-way tie for first place and with goals having changed so much that coach Randy Mazey is suddenly daring to think about winning the championship and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
“Nothing this team does surprises me now,” Mazey said Sunday after WVU defeated the preseason Big 12 favorite Oklahoma, 9-6, to win the series and move into a tie for first with the Sooners. “This team is capable of anything.”
Talk like that has not been heard around the West Virginia baseball program in a very long time, the team not having gone to the NCAA since 1996 and never having qualified as an at-large choice.
Now the Mountaineers believe they can make it.
“That feeling came on slowly,” Mazey admitted. “We set a goal when the season started to qualify for the Big 12 Tournament.”
In some sports that’s a hefty goal, but in the Big 12 there are eight of the nine teams that qualify, so only one team is left out. True, it did look like it would be WVU at the season’s start with the Mountaineers picked to finish last, so it was a step forward, but it left a lot more to accomplish.
“We met that goal with nine or 10 games left in the season. We felt really good about that,” Mazey admitted, “but you have to set new goals then and try to accomplish those. Amongst ourselves and the team we set new goals and we went out trying to accomplish those without getting away from how you get there, which is playing one pitch at a time.
“You can’t lose sight of how you get there.”
It is one thing to have the drive to escape the cellar, quite another to win a championship.
It takes a winner’s mindset to do the latter, and that often begins with the coach. When asked what he saw in Mazey when he hired him, athletic director Oliver Luck said it was “quiet confidence” that he displayed.
“I don’t know how people would describe me,” Mazey said. “Every team takes on the personality of the head coach eventually, and I go into every game with an unbelievable amount of confidence. I don’t ever take the field thinking we’re not going to win the game no matter who we are playing against.
“I think our guys have taken on that personality. It goes back to the original saying we came up with at the beginning of fall practice. On the back of our shirts it said ‘NO DOUBT,’ Our guys play every pitch, swing at every pitch and throw every pitch with no doubt they are going to be successful.
“They bought into it, and that’s why we’ve been successful.”
And just what have they bought into?
“We told our guys they put themselves in a position by what they had done to really achieve something, but in order to achieve that you can’t take a day off; you can’t take an at bat off; you can’t take a pitch off.
“Mediocre teams can afford to do that, but championship teams can’t. Taking a game or an at bat off is all part of being mediocre. We put ourselves in a position where we can’t afford to do that. We go into every game and every practice with energy and passion.
“That’s how you achieve the goal you set out to accomplish.”
So now they have seven regular-season game left, beginning this weekend in Charleston ironically with a series against TCU, which is where Mazey spent his last few seasons as an assistant.
“It’s going to be really good to see everybody. The coaching staff is some of my best friends, and I really got close to the kids; so did my little boy. But as far as competing against them, that’s not going to be any fun.
“It’s fun to compete against your best friends when there isn’t much at stake, like a golf outing or card game or something like that. There’s so much at stake and you root so hard for both teams. … I mean, I want them to be successful, and I want us to be successful. “
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.