MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– The West Virginia University baseball team began its fall practice last week, and while these games may not count on the season, they could be very beneficial to this Mountaineers’ baseball team.
The Mountaineers went 27-27, 9-13 Big 12 last season and made a brief appearance in the Big 12 tournament.
“We got a lot of guys back from last year’s team,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said. “Hopefully guys get one year older, one year more mature. And one year of experience and becoming a better player and learning how to win at this level. We actually have pretty high expectations coming into this season.”
WVU will be without stars like Taylor Munden and Justin Fox, but players like outfielder KC Huth and left-handed pitcher Ross Vance return.
Fall practice is very beneficial for a team like the Mountaineers who have colder springs.
“Guys get tired of playing against each other so we get an opportunity to play outside competition,” Mazey said. “(We can) get some young guys in there and see what they can do because in our situation we don’t get to play intrasquad games a whole lot in the spring because of the weather. So any opportunity we get to play in the fall. This is when we start to determine our lineup and who is going to pitch in what role. So these games are super important to us in the fall.
“If you don’t play outside competition in the fall then it takes us 10 or 15 games into the spring to really know who is going to fit in where. You hope those first 15 games while you are learning that you don’t lose too much so this is important to see.”
Why are these fall games so important? Coach Mazey believes it helps show exactly how players react when the pressure is on.
“A lot of guys are really good players in practice,” he said. “When another team shows up, they are a different guy and vice versa. A lot of guys are gamers instead of practice players so that really helps identify who is going to step up when the uniform color changes in the other dugout.”
This fall is also important for the Mountaineers in more than an on the field aspect because it wasn’t until the middle of spring when WVU played its first game at Monongalia County Ballpark.
“This fall is important for us,” Mazey said. “For the guys to learn how to turn this into a home field advantage and practice on it everyday, which we didn’t get to do last year. We just got up here last week so it’s been good to get out her every day.”
Team chemistry is important to any good team, whether it be baseball, hockey, basketball or football. WVU’s fall baseball allows the incoming freshman a chance to bond with the returning players.
“We know we got good players,” Mazey said. “We got some experience. For the old guys in this program, older guys, the more experienced guys, I want them to gel with the incoming guys in this program.
“That is how you have great teams and good seasons if you can establish that chemistry. Now that we are in the locker room and that we have our facility, we have a team lounge, and the camaraderie so far has really been good.”
In the spring, all eyes are on teams to succeed. Winning is the key to making it into the post season. The fall games will give the Mountaineers a chance to learn from their mistakes.
“These games in the fall, you don’t necessarily have to win them,” Mazey said. “A lot of times you learn more about your team when you lose a game than when you win a game. If you win sometimes some of the mistakes get overshadowed but when you lose you know exactly what you need to work on going into the following week of practice.”
Fall baseball is also a time where new leaders can be born.
“Leaders aren’t somebody you can point out and say hey would you want to be a leader this year?” Mazey said. “We haven’t asked guys to do that. We just kind of watch and see who has taken on that role.”
Coach Mazey has had several players step up and become leaders so far.
“KC Huth has done a tremendous job in that role and Ray Guerrini has done a tremendous job in that role,” he said. “From the pitching standpoint Jeff Hardy has done a good job and Ross Vance. They’re older guys and should be doing that but you can’t really ask them to do it. You got to teach them to be leaders and let them rise to the surface.”
The Mountaineers will open its fall baseball schedule with Potomac State on Sunday, Sept. 27 at noon at the Monongalia County Ballpark. Admission is free.