The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 29, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Mazey has WVU ready to make a splash

MORGANTOWN — He came upon us a year ago and won over our hearts, this West Virginia baseball coach named Randy Mazey.

He came in with fresh ideas, a fresh approach, taking over a program that had become a back burner part of the WVU athletic department, breathing life into it not only with the way the team played but also more with the way it behaved.

He created people who just happened to be athletes, a team that got itself caught up in a devastating tornado in Oklahoma just before the Big 12 Tournament was to be played and who became part of a national story as it helped in the relief effort for those who had lost so much in the natural disaster.

Randy Mazey had won over Morgantown and, at the same time, Morgantown had won over him and his family, a TV star wife who found a role with WVU’s move into the Internet, and with a cute, young family, his 5-year-old son Wammer serving as his team’s bat boy and, on this Sunday past, sitting there in the dugout signing autographs with the rest of the players.

Sociologically speaking, Randy Mazey had become Oliver Luck’s best hire, but it went further than that, for Mazey also has proven himself to be as good a coach as Luck has brought on board, a coach who understands the game, the people who play it and the people who watch it.

A faithful following has begun under Mazey as they build a new baseball stadium, a faithful that has to be amazed at the way he held his team together through a seven-game losing streak that would have ruined many a season and built it into a team that’s steaming toward the post-season as if it might just be a contender for the Big 12 Tournament championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament field.

This has not been easy.

Mazey had to keep his team together and focused through the losses while, at the same time, rebuilding not only his offense but also both his starting pitching and the bullpen.

It was a lot of shuffling, some coming together through luck, some through skill and some a result of being flexible enough to be willing to make changes.

The most obvious changes Mazey made were covered in detail a day ago after pitcher Ross Vance and right-fielder Brad Johnson did in Kansas State to complete a three-game, weekend sweep.

Vance, you see, buried deeply in an ineffective WVU bullpen through the early days in the season, unable to get untracked until Mazey had to have a pitcher — more like a sacrificial lamb — to throw against Ohio State.

He chose Vance and he not only won the game but also struck out 14 batters and has gone on to win three in a row impressively.

Why did this move to starting work out?

Sean Carley, whose spot in the rotation was taken by Vance, freeing him to move to the bullpen where he has become the missing component, explained why Vance has benefitted from the move.

“It’s kind of funny. Ross has some good stuff. He’s one of those crafty lefties that’s hard to hit,” Carley began. “But I think his stuff moves so much he needs time to warm up. The role he had earlier in the season, coming out of the bullpen, he would get maybe only 15 pitches to warm up. He wasn’t ready and is on a short leash. If you don’t have your command, you’re going to get yanked and it looks like a terrible outing.

“The opportunity to get a feel for his pitches as a starter has been beneficial for him and obviously is keeping teams off balance.”

Johnson, too, was an interesting move, for Mazey was in need of hitting and he knew Johnson could hit. It’s just that Johnson was a third baseman and he already had a third baseman.

Rather than looking in a different direction, Mazey opted to take a chance and move Johnson to right field, a position he never had played.

The result?

Johnson is hitting .400 with 14 RBI in 13 games for the season, .520 over the last seven games in which he has driven in 13 runs.

“We talked about opportunities. His came at the halfway point in the season and he’s sure taking advantage of it,” Mazey said.

Then there was another good bit of coaching, this stretching back into last year when he brought Taylor Munden into the program, using him as a utility player to get his feet wet before settled him in at shortstop this season.

It was a perfect fit, but Mazey had to make Munden understand that.

“Everybody thought he was a good player … except for him,” Mazey pointed out. “When he got in that leadoff spot he kind of took the reins and went with it.”

Mazey understood what it took to make Munden realize that he could do the job.

“Last year I kind of got caught up in all these big guys I walked into. I’d never seen guys this big. They hit the ball miles and I just felt like to play my role I had to do what they did. That obviously isn’t what my job is,” Munden said.

“I really had the time to take over Christmas break to sit down and think about my swing and my role and how it would make the Mountaineers successful. I’ve calmed down a lot and really tried to get on base for the guys before me.”

The result now is that Mazey has a leadoff hitter in Munden, a run producer in Johnson, a starting pitcher in Vance and stopper in Carley, and a team ready to make noise the rest of the way.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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