MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Alek Manoah is the name that’s brought West Virginia baseball to perhaps its highest level of national prominence in program history this season. He’s a certain first-round draft pick on a surefire postseason team that’s spent much of the season in the national rankings.
But Manoah doesn’t consider himself “The Man” of the Mountaineers roster. That distinction belongs to senior right fielder Darius Hill.
“He is Mountaineer baseball,” Manoah said. “His name is written all over the record books.”
Over the course of his career, Hill has become the program’s all-time leader in games played, at-bats and doubles. The doubles record was the most recent to go down when he broke a tie with current St. Louis Cardinal Jedd Gyorko Thursday night.
“He has to bring it every day of the week. That’s not easy to do over a long season,” Manoah said. “That wears you out a little bit. But that’s Darius. He’s consistent. That’s who he is as a person. That’s who he is at school. That’s who he is when he eats.”
West Virginia coach Randy Mazey knew he needed players like Hill in his lineup in order to transform the Mountaineers into a program that could respectably compete against the baseball powers of the Big 12. The trick was convincing them to come.
“When guys like Darius came to this program, we were trying to sell them on doing something that’s never been done before,” Mazey said. “When you can sell kids on being part of something that’s never been done before, that’s pretty exciting for kids to jump into a situation like that.”
For Hill, a Dallas native, West Virginia had plenty of appeal. He could still play plenty of games within a few hours of home – just as the visitor. His parents also had the ability to fly directly from Dallas-Fort Worth to Pittsburgh and attend many of his home games at WVU.
“It’s been a blessing to have the family support even though I’ve been 18 hours from home,” he said.
Hill also saw potential in Mon County Ballpark, which opened the year he was being recruited as a high school senior.
“You saw it’s a Big 12 program that has potential in an area without too many big programs,” Hill said. “The facility was going to be top-notch. The coaching staff was top-notch. It just felt like something was stirring that could be special here.”
In Hill’s sophomore season, the Mountaineers made their first NCAA regional appearance in 21 years. As he prepares to exit the program, West Virginia is on the brink of even more history. Depending on how they perform at the Big 12 tournament, the Mountaineers could end up hosting a regional for the first time since 1955.
The top 16 teams in the country host regionals. West Virginia entered the final series of the regular season ranked 21st in the Ratings Percentage Index, and it is worth noting that two teams with RPIs below 16 hosted regionals last season.
Nevertheless, Hill is preparing as if Saturday will be his final appearance at the ballpark that helped draw him to WVU.
“Just spending countless hours here over four-plus years, it’s really special seeing it come to end,” Hill said. “I’ll look back at it and smile. It’s saddening, but amazing at the same time.”
Hill’s also holding on to hope that he and the rest of the Mountaineers will get an encore performance befitting of how they’ve transformed the program.
“I’ve got some optimism. Hopefully we can host,” Hill said. “But that’s out of our hands. We’ve just got to control what we can control and win some ballgames. Hopefully the best happens for us and the committee looks favorably upon us.”