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Mazey hopeful foundation has been set for successful future

A sudden and disappointing ending to an otherwise memorable season came about Sunday for West Virginia when the Mountaineers lost 10-0 at Kentucky.

Starting with a loss at Texas in the opener of a three-game set to wrap up the regular season, the Mountaineers dropped seven of their last eight contests, being outscored 65-32 in the process. Over those seven losses, West Virginia was outscored 60-19 and scored four or fewer runs six times.

“As I told the guys, only one team out there out of 64 is going to not feel the way we do right now,” WVU manager Randy Mazey said to begin his opening postgame remarks. “Everybody loses their last game except for the last team standing, so this is the worst day of the season for a lot of people a lot of the time. Guys are hugging each other and crying and emotional. I told them in the huddle that once the emotion dies down of what happened today, then you’ll realize what happened this season. This was probably the greatest season in the history of West Virginia baseball.”

If not the best season in program history, the 2023 campaign would certainly rank among the top few.

Despite missing out on an outright Big 12 Championship, West Virginia finished in a three-way tie for first place and can lay claim to a Big 12 Championship that it split with Texas and Oklahoma State.

The Mountaineers tied the single season program record for victories with 40, won six of their first seven Big 12 series after more than holding their own throughout non-league play and regularly played in front of 2,500-plus people at home.

Mazey was honored as the league’s manager of the year, while second baseman JJ Wetherholt was chosen the Big 12’s top player after a season that won’t soon be forgotten in or around Morgantown. A sophomore, Wetherholt became the second player in WVU history to reach the 100-hit mark in a season by finishing with 101. His .449 batting average ranks as the best of any player from a Power Five Conference since Florida State’s Buster Posey hit at a .463 clip in 2008.

JJ Wetherholt heads off the field. Photo by Teran Malone

Wetherholt finished with team bests of 16 home runs, 60 RBI, 67 runs and 24 doubles, while registering an on-base percentage of .517. He struck out a mere 22 times — less than once for every four hits he managed.

“The best season I’ve ever seen by a single player, but beyond that, the type of teammate and leader he is, what he does off the field is equally as impressive as what he does on the field,” Mazey said while advocating for Wetherholt to be a serious candidate for the Golden Spikes Award. “I’ve never been a part of a season like that, so kudos to JJ for being a Mountaineer.”

Mazey and the coaching staff met with players individually Monday to go over season evaluations and examine the future.

The discussion with Wetherholt, who committed to returning to WVU earlier in the season, likely wasn’t too in depth.

“What adjectives can you use? What superlatives can you use to describe that guy? Nobody has ever been perfect at the game of baseball, but he’s as close as you can get,” Mazey said. “Nobody since Buster Posey hit that high in a college baseball season. He’s a great defender, steals bases and does everything you have to do. Could you imagine if we had two or three guys like him in the lineup at the same time? That’s the goal. JJ needs to just keep being JJ.”

Wetherholt felt the honor of his accomplishment and admitted Posey’s name was especially significant.

“He makes that stat way better, just because everyone knows who Buster Posey is,” Wetherholt said. “It’s something I didn’t think would happen, but definitely a really cool thing.”

While West Virginia’s bats cooled off late in the year, the Mountaineers also struggled in the way of starting pitching, which was at least partially problematic for much of the season. The team got no shortage of quality outings from its top two starters Blaine Traxel and Ben Hampton for much of the year, and while both endured their share of struggles late in the season, WVU never developed a reliable third starting pitcher. 

It was often a revolving door that meant opportunities for several players at different points in the season, which included David Hagaman getting the nod in a Big 12 Tournament-opening loss to Texas Tech and Grant Siegel starting the season finale.

“When your Friday and Saturday starters both throw 84 miles an hour and you don’t really know who your Sunday and midweek guys are, to just keep winning and winning like we did is the reason I say we overachieved this year instead of underachieved,” Mazey said.

The manager is hopeful the majority of the roster returns and can build off the strong season, although through potential draft picks and the transfer portal, there will likely be several holes to fill.

“The only two guys that have exhausted eligibility are Blaine Traxel and Kevin Dowdell, so we could conceivably have this whole team back,” Mazey said. “I feel like [pitcher] Carlson Reed is going to be a pretty big draft pick. Who knows? He may have an opportunity to move on. 

“This experience that they went through could be good for us next year, because we could have almost this whole team back. Everybody around me has such a big part in the success that we’ve had this year. I guarantee you my coaches are out there thinking right now how we’re going to be better next year. That’s what they do. That’s what we said after last year when we thought we should’ve got in a regional and didn’t. ‘OK, let’s do what we have to do to get in one’, and that’s what we did. So today, we’re saying, ‘let’s do what we have to do to win one next year,’ so we’re already going to work on how to make that happen.”

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