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McDougal hopes to make most of opportunity with Mountaineers following two solid seasons at Potomac State

Ben McDougal always dreamed of getting to this point.

Yet even McDougal, a Bridgeport native who recently joined the baseball program at West Virginia University, wasn’t sure it would come.

“Out of high school, I had an offer to (Division II) Alderson Broaddus and my only other offer was from Potomac State,” McDougal recalled. “I knew I had aspirations to play at the highest level and felt the best way to do that would be to play at Potomac State.”

Had McDougal accepted the other offer, he would’ve been forced to move on anyhow after one season as a result of AB since closing in August 2023 due to financial difficulties.

Instead, he competed — and largely excelled — over two years with the Catamounts of the National Junior College Athletic Association. As a result, McDougal was presented with an opportunity to join the Mountaineers, which he opted to do in favor of several other Division I offers that had eluded the left-handed pitcher in high school.

“I’d talked to a few schools from the Big Ten, one from the Sun Belt and a couple other mid-majors, but I knew WVU was where I wanted to be,” McDougal said.

In McDougal, the Mountaineers added someone who made a major splash as a newcomer to college baseball. In 11 appearances and six starts as a freshman, McDougal finished 7-1 with a 3.47 ERA over 36 1/3 innings. He finished with 53 strikeouts and 21 base-on-balls and became an integral piece of veteran head coach Doug Little’s rotation.

“I was expecting to be a bullpen piece,” McDougal said. “I threw my first bullpen, and from then on, coach Little told me he wanted me to be a starter. Throughout the fall, I struggled a little bit and he told me I needed to figure out how to throw strikes or the starting spot wasn’t going to be there. I definitely figured it out enough to compete. He tells you how it is and he told me I needed to get better to get out there. I took it to heart and worked hard over the winter so I could compete in the spring and that worked.”

A more known commodity in his second season, McDougal’s sophomore campaign got off to a rough start when he allowed eight runs and recorded seven outs in his first start.

Over his next nine starts, McDougal surrendered only 14 earned runs. He had consecutive seven-inning starts in April in which he did not allow a run and yielded a total of two hits to go with an eye-opening 30 strikeouts among his 42 outs recorded. Both went down as complete games, and the latter effort was a no-hitter that led to McDougal being named NJCAA Division I Pitcher of the Week.

McDougal struggled in his final start with the Catamounts and was tagged for 11 earned runs over 5 1/3 innings, causing his sophomore season ERA to rise to 5.27. He finished his second and final season at Potomac State with a 5-5 record over 11 starts, striking out 77 and walking 39 in 56 1/3 innings.

“Throwing more innings actually helped me,” McDougal said. “My body has matured a lot more through college which I needed, and I really didn’t feel fatigue like I maybe thought I would. For the most part, I got stronger as the season went on. I had a bit of the yips the first half of the season and then I got better. I was fighting to bring my ERA back down and felt like I got it to a respectable point.”

Ben McDougal throws a pitch during his high school career at Bridgeport. Photo by Greg Carey

When McDougal encountered trouble over his two seasons with the Catamounts, it could often be attributed to walks. He issued 60 base-on-balls in 92 2/3 innings for his Potomac State career, while finishing with 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings and only five home runs allowed — a sign McDougal’s stuff is difficult for hitters to contend with when being forced to swing.

“Free bases are always the ones that come back to bite you,” McDougal said.

McDougal largely overcame the walks in some outings. Other times, he wasn’t as fortunate, which has been part of the growth process for the 6-foot-3, 190-pound southpaw.

“I put on 30 pounds through JUCO and the velocity and that kind of stuff helps, but the biggest thing is my mind maturing,” McDougal said. “A lot of guys have A-plus stuff, but may get rattled easily and it messes with them and ruins the outing. You have to move past it and throw. Sometimes I was more weak-minded, especially in high school, but I feel like I’ve matured through that.”

McDougal says his velocity over the last few years has increased from low-to-mid 80s as a junior and senior in high school to high 80s in college, while hitting 90 miles per hour at times. 

“I took the gym seriously,” McDougal said. “I was topping probably 85 my senior year of high school and I hit 90 the fall of my freshman year. I’ve gotten to where I can maintain that. We didn’t get gunned a whole bunch in the spring, but I was up to 90 my freshman year and in the fall of my sophomore year, I probably threw 25 pitches and the majority were 89 or 90, so the velocity has jumped.”

Monday marks two weeks since McDougal arrived in Morgantown and began summer workouts with the Mountaineers.

“I’m liking it. It’s definitely an adjustment. There’s a lot more tools and a lot more amenities,” McDougal said. “Potomac State was very detail-oriented and that helped me a good bit, but everything is more extensive and there’s a lot more opportunity recovery wise. Everything is on a bigger scale. I’m adjusting OK so far and there’s still a long road ahead and anything could happen, but we’re at a good place right now.”

It’s been exactly one month since the Mountaineers bowed out in a Super Regional series at North Carolina, marking the end of head coach Randy Mazey’s tenure following 11 seasons at West Virginia.

Steve Sabins, former associate head coach, has since taken over, and with that transition announced in July 2023, McDougal is plenty familiar with the current staff.

“Coach Sabins and [assistant coach Jacob] Garcia had a big role in reaching out and communicating with coach Little and me,” McDougal said. “Those were the two mainly talked to through the recruiting process and with Sabins already being part of the staff and now transitioning to being a head coach, it helped a bunch.”

McDougal hopes to show them the offer was well worth it.

“It doesn’t matter who I’m facing, whether it’s someone from junior college or the Big 12,” McDougal said. “I’m going up there thinking I’ll beat them that at bat, and that’s what helps me the most.”

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