GRANVILLE, W.Va. – If you saw the looks on their faces, it would be impossible to imagine the sting going away any time soon, if ever.
But West Virginia coach Randy Mazey and his players tried their best to ease the pain of their season-ending 11-10 loss to Texas A&M by focusing on the fact they were there in the first place. The Mountaineers were able to accomplish something that would have once seemed impossible by hosting a regional. Prior to this weekend, postseason baseball had not been played in Morgantown since 1955.
“All I can do is treat this like a win,” Mazey said moments after watching his team squander an eight-run lead. “Big picture, I think this is a win. You can’t let one game, one pitch or one inning overshadow what our program has accomplished and how far we’ve come and what we’ve done. I’m not going to do that.
“I’m not going to let one inning of baseball or one game dictate my feeling about West Virginia baseball, because I couldn’t be prouder of anybody in that locker room.”
Senior Darius Hill has seen it all over the course of his West Virginia career, which began when the Mountaineers were still two decades removed from their last regional appearance.
“This program will never be the same. It’s no longer an afterthought; it’s no longer a school that everyone can say, ‘We’re going to beat West Virginia this weekend,’” Hill said. “We’re here to play. The guys that are coming in, the guys that are here are high-level players that can compete with anyone in the country, and I think we proved that over the past few weeks.
“Even though we didn’t win all the time, I think we’re in a place now that this program is really going to go to new heights.”
Those heights will have to be scaled by a group replacing perhaps the most talented nucleus in program history.
Gone is Hill, the program’s career leader in doubles and games played. So is catcher Ivan Gonzalez, who provided much of the team’s fire in addition to being the chief psychologist for the pitching staff.
Most important of all is junior pitcher Alek Manoah, who is a lock to have his named called in the first round of Monday’s Major League Baseball draft. If Manoah is taken in the first 14 spots, he will be at least owed $4 million – money that cannot be turned down at a position that asks shoulders and elbows to defy physics.
“Despite the hard loss, we were talking in the locker room together about how we feel like we made out mark on this program,” Hill said. “It’s tough knowing that today’s the last day, but I think looking back in a couple of weeks from now, I think it’s something we’ll look back on with some happiness and not sadness.”
Sam Kessler, who allowed Bryce Blaum’s game-winning grand slam, echoed his hope for the future of the program after the crushing defeat in a Twitter post.
“I can’t express enough what it was like to lose that game for ya’ll. I will never forget what happened on that field today in front of the greatest fans in sports. Y’all supported us through everything this whole year and I’m sorry we couldn’t reward you for that. But don’t think this is the end for this program. It is about to reach new heights that has never been seen before. So from the bottom of my heart I’m sorry for today but we will keep climbing.”