In so many ways it was a day that called for celebration.
Randy Mazey’s West Virginia baseball team, the team that was supposed to finish last in its first Big 12 season, was sitting in third place on what should have been the eve of the conference tournament.
One of his pitchers, Bridgeport’s own Harrison Musgrave, had been named the conference’s Pitcher of the Year, infielder Ryan McBroom and designated hitter Matt Frazier had earned second team all-conference honors, and outfielder Bobby Boyd, infielder Billy Fleming, catcher lan Filauro, outfielder Jacob Rice, outfielder Brady Wilson and infielder Ryan Tuntland had been given honorable mention.
It had been a season unlike any that anyone expected played out by a team that went beyond the wildest expectations.
“It’s been as close to a coach’s dream team as you can get,” Mazey would say on Tuesday, but in the end the baseball accomplishments really were a small part of it, for this was a group that rose to unseen heights when it found itself caught in the midst of a human tragedy it could not have imagined.
The regular season was over Saturday at Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers headed into Oklahoma City to prepare for the tournament, only to be caught up in a killer tornado that changed everyone’s outlook on life.
On Sunday the tornados raged through Shawnee, close enough to get some attention but not of the nature that the very world in which the Mountaineers existed came undone.
The next day a twister, two miles wide, on the ground for 20 miles with winds up to 200 mph, destroyed everything in its sight.
The WVU team was but four miles from the scene.
The Mountaineers swung into action, offering to help in any way they could.
“As soon as we decided we were safe, I got on the phone with the Oklahoma City police,” Mazey said. “They transferred me to the Moore police, who gave us the command center.”
WVU was ready to roll up their sleeves like Mountaineers do, to dig in the rubble, to offer any aid they could, but they were told no one was being allowed in the area other than immediate family.
“They didn’t want people getting in the way,” Mazey said.
So it was, instead, they went off to a local Walmart. If they could offer rescue assistance, they could bring supplies.
These, you must remember, are kids who had not been experienced with tornadoes, who had never been in the path of one, who found themselves watching from four miles away. They had gathered in front of the televisions and seen the destruction, heard of the missing children.
“We ran into a woman in Walmart who was a victim,” Mazey said. “That meant a lot to the kids. They saw tangible evidence. A couple of hours earlier she didn’t know if her kids were safe in school in Moore.”
Turned out, she was shopping for the same kinds of things the baseball team was compiling — shoes, underwear, shirts, flashlights, necessities.
“We rerouted her to the checkout line and we gave her some of the things she needed,” Mazey said.
The rest, purchased with money that will come through the “Friends of Baseball” booster group, was gathered and late Tuesday afternoon, the team was to deliver the items for distribution.
“We wanted to take the supplies to a location where some of the victims are at. Hopefully we can and drop them off to the people as opposed to just dropping it off at a distribution point,” Mazey said.
As for the Big 12 Tournament, the storm has forced a change in the format from round-robin to pool play with each team guaranteed three games, the two teams with the best records in round-robin play meeting for the title.
West Virginia opens with Kansas while Oklahoma State and TCU play the other game in Pool 2. Pool 1 matches Oklahoma and Baylor and Texas Tech and top-seeded Kansas State, whose coach Brad Hill won Coach of the Year honors over Mazey.
“We debated canceling the tournament in deference to the devastating tragedy in Moore, but were encouraged by Oklahoma City leaders and the Oklahoma City All-Sports Association to go forward,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “We believe the tournament can serve as a testament to the strong Oklahoma spirit and to the resiliency of the Oklahoma people.”
The conference was encouraged to proceed with the championship by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
“We are very appreciative of the consideration by the participating teams and the Big 12 Conference,” Cornett said. “We encouraged and supported the decision to play the championship in a format comfortable to the Big 12.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.
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