The Times West Virginian

Sports

May 6, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Mazey’s master plan coming to fruition at WVU

MORGANTOWN — It was the chance Randy Mazey had waited for, the chance to get his own team back again.

A one-time player at Clemson, he’d tasted success as a head coach at East Carolina but when that job slipped away he found himself at TCU, serving as pitching coach, a part of the sport he loved but not doing the job in it he loved to do.

Then West Virginia came knocking. They had decided to move into the Big 12 Conference and had decided to upgrade their baseball program, which had grown stale and stagnant, perhaps not as much the fault of coach Greg Van Zant as of the administration’s view of it as a minor sport.

In the Big 12, a conference with Texas and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and Texas Tech and, yes, TCU, it was anything but a minor sport.

So it was that Oliver Luck came knocking on Mazey’s door and he was eager to accept the challenge.

“Coming into it, all I knew about the team was what it said on the stat sheet,” Mazey explained in a conference call on Monday, having just finished winning two of three from Texas. “I did not know the kids. I did not know a lot about the program. I just came here and did what we know how to do — work.”

The formula was a simple one, one he believed in.

“Teach the kids how to do well in school, teach the importance of playing hard on the field, teaching them to get out in the community and to try to support the community,” he said.

He was fortunate that he was taking over a program that didn’t have a negative image ... It was a program that simply didn’t have an image.

It played its games before a few hundred people, got some coverage in the newspapers and on the radio, but for the most part was little more to the community than the local American Legion team, which at least had hometown kids on it to root for.

Because it wasn’t negative, Mazey didn’t have to change people’s opinions, only had to find a way to mold them.

And he’s done that.

He brought us his family, a pretty wife with talent to do a job on TV bubbling over with enthusiasm, two cute kids who were always there at his side, his 5-year-old son serving as bat boy. His baseball family he taught to be courteous and polite.

They hang around after games to sign autographs for kids, let the kids run the bases.

They give interviews — all of them, as best as we can tell, without it hurting their play or character.

And they play a good brand of baseball ... fast, solid, hard-nosed.

The turnaround happened quicker than even Mazey anticipated, but happen it did.

“As the games were unfolding this weekend, I’d be walking out to third base and see the people standing on the bank out in left field and see all the stands behind the plate and down the right-field line were full. We were playing Texas, all the alumni had come back (for the final game in Hawley Field) and we were playing well,” he said.

“It was pretty much what I envisioned when I came, but it took a lot of people to bring it to fruition.”

The team’s image was shaped nationally and locally when they rushed to the aid of tornado victims in Oklahoma at this time last year, leaving them only to carve out their place in the collegiate baseball world.

They head into the home stretch having won eight of their last 10 games with a meeting against Virginia Tech in Princeton on tap tonight. As evidence of how the word has spread, that game is sold out.

But then they try to close their rush into the NCAA Tournament with two Big 12 series left over the next two weekends.

“This is the toughest stretch of the season,” Mazey said. “Kansas is the hottest team in the Big 12 and hardly anyone wins games at Texas Tech. They always have a fantastic record at home.”

Some believe WVU has done enough to earn a spot in the NCAA, their record now at 26-17 despite a seven-game losing streak and a 9-8 mark in Big 12 play.

Mazey takes nothing for granted when it comes to the NCAA, though.

“I don’t know what we have to do to get in,” he said. “You get surprised every year. You just have to go out and try to win games and let the people who make those decisions make them the best they can.”

Then when they have the selection show, you find out.

“One year at East Carolina we got the team together for the selection show. We had an RPI of 52 and no one knew if we were in or not. We watched the show and we were the very last team put into regional. You can imagine the celebration that turned into.”

West Virginia’s RPI is currently 22, in part because it has played a strong schedule, also part of Mazey’s master plan.

“We’ll play anyone at any time,” he said. “We took on North Carolina on 24-hour notice.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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