Greg Van Zant now ranks second on West Virginia University’s all-time baseball victories list.

In guiding the Mountaineers to a 36-22 record this season, he hoisted his total to 349 wins for 12 years as the head coach.

That put him ahead of the late Steve Harrick, whose teams combined for a 335-160-1 record over 20 years (1948-67).

“But we play a lot more games now than WVU did when he was the coach,” said Van Zant, whose overall mark is 349-301-1.

The late Dale Ramsburg, whom Van Zant succeeded in 1995, is the all-time leader. His record for 27 seasons is 540-387-9.

“It was humbling to be named his successor as head coach,” he said. “Taking over after serving four years an assistant, I pledged to continue building the program,” Van Zant recalled.

“I wanted to improve the facility and everything. Sometimes it has been a slow process, but I think we’re making strides.”

The Williamson native, who’s in his mid-40s, is proud of the fact that his team put together a school-record 20-game home winning streak this spring.

That included last year’s season-ending three-game sweep of Seton Hall and victories in the first 17 home games of 2006. The latter was the nation’s longest home-win skein at the time.

“Winning every game on that long homestand in March really made our season,” Van Zant said. “That got us way above .500. And it gave everybody some confidence.”

WVU finished the season with the country’s second-best team batting average at .339. It has been topped just once previously (.358 in 1998).

“Obviously, we’re proud of that,” Van Zant said.

Adding to the significance was that all nine starters (including designated hitter) batted better than .300 for the season. WVU was the only Big East school to do that.

Averages ranged from outfielder Casey Bowling’s .403 down to catcher David Carpenter’s .316.

WVU also had six regulars with at least 40 runs batted in each. Too, the team wound up with 67 stolen bases compared to just 18 for the 2005 campaign.

It marked just the fifth time that the Mountaineers won at least 36 games in a season. Four of those were since 1996, the year WVU won the Big East championship and finished 33-25.

Ironically, the school record of 40 wins was set in 1994, Ramsburg’s last season. He died that fall.

Van Zant was a four-year starting third baseman at WVU from 1980-83. He graduated in May 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.

He worked for the Ford Motor Co. in Indiana from 1985-87. It was a good job, and he didn’t give coaching a thought.

That is, until he joined others interested in baseball to raise money and start an American Legion team in Connersville, Ind.

“I coached their team for three years, so I suddenly realized that I liked coaching,” Van Zant recalled.

“I was happy I had a job. I enjoyed going to the factory, where I filled a management-level type of position. But I missed baseball.

“In my second year out there, however, my appendix ruptured. I was in the hospital for nine days and almost died.

“While hospitalized, I realized life is too short not to do what you like doing. So I decided then that I wanted to coach college baseball.”

Van Zant spent the next two months on sick leave. That gave him time to write coaches of 50 top college baseball programs in search of a job as an assistant coach.

His last letter went to Jack Stallings, then head coach at Georgia Southern and ranked among the nation’s top 10. Later Stallings coached at Florida State and Wake Forest, his alma mater.

“That was my big break,” Van Zant said. “He hired me as a graduate assistant in 1988-89-90, and we got to the College World Series my last year there.”

He was an assistant coach in the Cape Cod League that summer. Then Ramsburg called and offered him a job as his top aide.

“So I came back, and have been here ever since,” Van Zant said. “We were really saddened when coach Ramsburg died.”

He admittedly learned a great deal about baseball from both Ramsburg and Stallings. Each helped him tremendously.

“But the biggest thing for me was growing up when my father was American Legion coach in Williamson,” he said. “I learned a lot about baseball from him at an early age.

“Once in awhile I served the bat boy. Then when I was old enough, I played for Williamson Post No. 49.”

Jim Van Zant, a veteran journalist now retired, coached Legion ball for about 20 years. Son Greg played on the last of his four state championship clubs in 1979.

“Dad’s father had been a coach,” he said. “I’ve been told that all of the coal mines had teams during that period.”

The elder Van Zant played a year of baseball and basketball at Marshall. He still attends many of WVU’s home games.

“This has been one of my most rewarding seasons,” the Mountaineer coach said. “It was very satisfying.

“We had a really good bunch of seniors. I was happy to see them have some success.”

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