Wetherholt and the Mountaineers hope to ‘Do something cool’ in Mazey’s final season

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Randy Mazey was hired to lead the WVU baseball program in 2012 before any dirt had been moved in the construction of Monongalia County Ballpark and before the Mountaineers had played a Big 12 game.

Nearly a dozen years later, Mazey sat down in front of a microphone inside the WVU baseball facility to preview his final season as WVU’s head coach. 46 minutes later, two items were clear. Mazey is at peace with his decision to hand the keys to the program to longtime assistant Steve Sabins and that the 2024 season carries elevated expectations that his team is embracing.

West Virginia manager Randy Mazey looks on. (Photo by Teran Malone)

Entering Mazey’s 12th and final season

Prior to the opening of Monongalia County Ballpark in 2015, Mazey’s first two teams at WVU featured unique challenges. In 2013, the Mountaineers played their twelve conference games in Charleston and Beckley. A year later, the Mountaineers were back on campus for all games at Hawley Field.

The Mountaineers posted winning campaigns in both of those seasons. Program benchmarks followed in 2017 (NCAA Regional), 2019 (Hosting NCAA Regional) and 2023 (Big 12 regular season co-championship).

“You had visions of all this. But realistically, a lot of people thought I was crazy for coming here. The first time I had taken them to Hawley Field, they’d say, ‘What are you doing Maze’? You had visions of the facility and the conference and the type of players we could get here. I think we’ve accomplished a lot in my time here,” Mazey said.

“But there’s still some things that would be cool to do in my last year that we haven’t done yet. I am not limping off into the sunset just yet. I like this team and what they are capable of accomplishing. It would be really cool to send me off with a bang, so to speak. That’s what my goal for right now is.”

Last summer, Mazey decided that the 2024 season would be his last as head coach, although he will remain with the program in an administrative role beyond this season. Associate head coach Steve Sabins will assume the head coaching duties entering the 2025 season.

WVU head coach Randy Mazey and Amanda Mazey look on during the NCAA Selection Show.

With the Mountaineers set to open the year at Stetson on Friday, Mazey is often reminded by his wife Amanda about each “final” moment leading up to the season.

“Every time I get home from something, she says, ‘Do you realize that is the last time you are ever going to do that’? I don’t think that part of it will hit me until probably the last game, the last home game.

“The community has been so good to me and my family. We have kind of engrained ourselves in this community.”

Mazey says that his decision to step down after this season was based on two primary factors. First, the transition allows Mazey to pass the torch to a trusted assistant in Sabins, who is entering his ninth season in the program.

“All I will tell you about my decision is that I did it in the best interests of this baseball program, this university, this state and all the things I have grown to love so much. Had I not decided to do it when I did it, I don’t know how the next two, three or four years would have gone here. I did it for the right reasons. So I feel good about it.

“Retiring is pretty easy to talk about. But when you actually pull the trigger on it, things change a little bit. We’ll see how it goes when I get into it.”

“I know the guys really want to give him a good sendoff,” said WVU junior JJ Wetherholt. “We know it is an important year and we have the squad to do something cool. We’ve been working really hard to do that.

“He just recently dropped off two pounds of venison meat in my locker that I was able to try and it was great. He’s like that. You can have a funny conversation that has nothing to do with baseball. You can have a conversation that has everything to do with baseball. It is just a great balance.”

Morgantown infielder Weston Mazey (Photo by Joey Signorelli/www.BenQueenPhotography.com)

Mazey’s son, Weston, is a junior at Morgantown High School and is verbally committed to play for the Mountaineers as part of their 2026 recruiting class.

“All I can say about Sabs is that I am entrusting him with my son who is coming here to play. That should speak volumes about how I feel about him, the fact that I am perfectly happy my son will be under his guidance while he is here,” Mazey said.

“I want to coach my son. I don’t want my son to be coached by me. That’s the difference. I would love for him to be out here and me be on the field with him literally every time he is out there. It was never that I didn’t want to coach Wammer. I didn’t want him to spend four years on a college baseball team and go back to the dorm and listen to his teammates telling everyone what a rotten piece of crap his daddy is, kind of thing. That’s tough on a kid, to be coached by your dad.”

During a lopsided victory over Texas Tech last May, both of Mazey’s children were playing games at Mylan Park — his daughter Sienna plays softball. In that moment, the joy of victory was overshadowed by moments missed across town.

“I thought to myself — I would rather be there right now. And when that thought occurred to me, I thought that it is not fair to my team, the community and the state for me to want to be somewhere else at that moment. I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Mazey said.

“If [Sabins] takes this program to Omaha three years from now, I will actually feel good about the fact that I still had a part of that even though I am not the head coach because I wanted to see this transition. Have we all not seen what a not-so-smooth transition looks like in the head coaching ranks? I thought this program had to have a smooth transition to sustain the level that we’ve reached.”

Hype and expectations surround JJ Wetherholt

JJ Wetherholt heads off the field. Photo by Teran Malone

University High School graduate Jedd Gyorko won the Brooks Wallace Award as the nation’s best shortstop in 2010 and he went on to enjoy a nine-year career in the big leagues. Alek Manoah pitched his way to becoming a first-round draft pick in 2019.

Expectations for similar results now follow JJ Wetherholt. He is featured on numerous National Player of the Year watch lists after leading the nation in hitting last season with a .449 average. He is projected to be one of the top players taken in the 2024 MLB Draft.

“The sky is the limit for that kid. He can accomplish a lot at this level, a lot at the next level, and the level after that and after that. His big deal this year obviously is going to just play baseball, “Mazey said.

“Right down to how you sign autographs and how you deal with the community, that’s the stuff he has to deal with. There’s going to be scouts in the stands every game he plays. There’s social media and projections. People are going to be asking him a bunch of non-baseball questions. But he is a super-mature kid. There’s not a box that he doesn’t check that’s the right way to handle things.”

JJ Wetherholt breaks for the plate. Photo by Teran Malone

Wetherholt will play at his third infield spot in three years this spring as he makes the move from second base to shortstop.

“I take it as a challenge and an opportunity,” Wetherholt said. “People think shortstop is the hardest position to play. Every team needs a good shortstop. For me, it is an opportunity to help my team win.”

“You want your best player in the best spot,” Mazey said. “His freshman year he played third base. His sophomore year he played second base. Now he is playing shortstop. It would be cool if he played them all.”

Wetherholt should return to the leadoff spot in the batting order. Mazey hopes productive players behind him can make sure that Wetherholt doesn’t get pitched around.

“If they want to walk him and let him steal second base and have somebody drive him in, that’s a win for the Mountaineers,” Mazey said. “It looks like Logan [Sauve] will be hitting behind JJ, at least to start the season.”

“Can teams pitch around me? Yeah, I guess they can try to,” Wetherholt said. “Then again, they probably don’t want to walk me because I am a threat to steal bases. So I can end up on second and a hit scores me.”

Wetherholt split time last summer competing in the Cape Cod League and playing for the USA National Team in a series of games against Japan and Chinese Taipei.

“We got to face the No. 1 prospect in Japan who was going to get drafted that year. So it was really cool and a great experience on both ends.”

Experienced lineup, New arms

First baseman Grant Hussey steps on the bag to record an out. Photo by Teran Malone

Parkersburg South High School graduate and junior first baseman Grant Hussey returns for his third season as a starter. Last year, his 14 home runs were second-best on the team behind Wetherholt (16). But Hussey also struck out 72 times.

“He will be a middle-of-the-lineup, double-digit homer, tremendous defensive first baseman. That would be really nice for him to have a big year for us,” Mazey said.

“This is the best he’s ever looked,” Wetherholt said. “It is pretty evident. Strikeouts are obviously something that is going to happen. You can’t go to the plate hoping you don’t strike out. You have to want to get a hit and barrel the ball well. It is something he has noticed.”

University of Charleston transfer and Hedgesville High School graduate Kyle West joined the Mountaineers during the offseason. The junior infielder hit 30 home runs in 100 games at the Division II level

“What the cat gets used to this level, it is going to be scary for some people,” Mazey said.

“When he makes the transition to this pitching consistently, he has a chance to be a really big performer for us. And he is a West Virginia kid. That would be awesome. I am rooting for that kid so hard to make the transition. He is a great kid. He has more power than anyone on the team. I would love to see him settle in there, someway or somehow, in the middle of the lineup and be consistent. He would have a chance to be a 20 homer guy at this level.”

Last year’s top two starting pitchers in Ben Hampton and Blaine Traxel have moved on, leaving all three weekend rotation spots wide open.

“There’s a chance our weekend rotation could all be transfer portal guys,” Mazey said. “We feel that good about some of the pitching we have brought in here. Hayden Cooper has pitched really well for us. Derek Clark, Tyler Switalski, guys you have never heard of. But you’ll see a lot of them. ¬†And of course Aidan Major is back. He is probably our most experienced returning guy.”

 

New turf, New Big 12, New staff member

The second generation of the artificial playing surface at Monongalia County Ballpark was installed over the winter. The speedy track has been replaced by a surface than plays slower.

“It has been a little bit of a tough adjustment, I won’t lie, obviously because of how fast our turf used to play,” Wetherholt said. “So it is a little bit slower and the ball bounces a little bit higher. Our last turf was a little bit skippier.”

WVU is picked in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll. The Mountaineers are tied for sixth in the new-look 13-team league. In years past, Big 12 teams have played 24 conference games. That number has expanded to 30 games (ten series). The Mountaineers open league play a few weeks earlier than usual on March 8th at home against BYU.

“We only have three non-conference weekends now instead of five. It would be ideal if you best team was in place when that happens,” Mazey said.

Bridgeport High School and University of Charleston graduate Drew Hefner has joined the program as WVU’s Director of Player Development

“Anytime we can surround our team, 35 guys that aren’t from West Virginia, with people from West Virginia so they can sense the pride West Virginia people have in this program, that just helps the culture of what we are trying to build here,” Mazey said.

“He is a local guy who had success in college. He has a great personality and I think he has a great future in this business. Let’s face it, our business is more about communicating than anything and getting kids to do what you want them to do. He’s capable of that. He has been a wonderful addition.”

Big 12 title defense

The Mountaineers went 40-20 last season and they claimed a share of the Big 12 regular season championship for the first time. However, they won just one of their last eight games. A sweep at the hands of Texas cost WVU the outright league title. The Mountaineers went 0-2 in the Big 12 Tournament and 1-2 in NCAA Regional play.

“Winning became a habit. Obviously we expected to win every game just by the way we were playing. We kind of took it for granted,” Wetherholt said. “We went down to Texas, if we win just one game we are conference champions, hosting a regional. We can go to a Super [Regional]. Let’s go to Omaha, blah, blah, blah. We were just thinking way too far ahead and it got too much for us. The guys that are returners know what that feels like.”





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