MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For a peculiar twist to West Virginia’s baseball resurgence, consider how the seminal moment during a logic-defying stretch of 21 wins in 29 games surfaced after a loss.
On that evening of April 30, as a record Hawley Field crowd of 2.535 filed out to the sting of a 7-6 loss to Pitt, coach Randy Mazey huddled with his Mountaineers in left field.
A night on which the governor signed a new ballpark into reality, on which WVU’s seniors played and lost their last game in Morgantown, could have been ruined. Yet Mazey was encouraged.
“We came into that Pitt game with energy and enthusiasm,” he said. “We played hard. We played a good game. They scored one more run than we did, but that doesn’t overshadow that coming off a huge conference weekend, we showed up to play.
“I left that game feeling better about our team than I did when that game started.”
“Once you set that bar high, you’ve got to live up to it. Every time you’re in that batters box, it means a lot. Every pitch you throw means a lot. You can’t give away an at-bat or lose focus pitching to a No. 9 hitter.” — WVU baseball coach Randy Mazey
Coming off a sweep of Big 12 member Kansas, Mazey viewed the midweek Backyard Brawl as an indicator of how his team might digest its newfound success. And even though a one-run loss to the No. 17-ranked Panthers seemed a disappointment, Mazey saw what he wanted to see.
The Mountaineers followed the Pitt loss by taking two of three from 10th-ranked Oklahoma, a series win that lifted WVU into a three-way tie atop the Big 12.
“Once you set that bar high, you’ve got to live up to it,” Mazey told his team. “Every time you’re in that batters box, it means a lot. Every pitch you throw means a lot. You can’t give away an at-bat or lose focus pitching to a No. 9 hitter.”
With two Big 12 series remaining and a birth in the league tournament cemented, West Virginia has modified its goals upward. A team that opened the season hoping to earn respect and avoid the Big 12 cellar now aspires to sample the NCAA tournament.
The hunt continues Friday with the opener of a three-game set against TCU at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park, the Mountaineers’ home away from home this season. The following week WVU closes the regular season with a series at Oklahoma State.
Amid this unexpected windfall, with WVU becoming the top storyline of the Big 12 season, Mazey only wants his team to remember how it climbed into the position.
“You can’t relax at all,” he said, pointing toward other professions where people can’t afford to take a day off. “Imagine if a heart surgeon doesn’t give 100 percent one day at work, or if a pilot doesn’t give his all. What’s the result of that?”