To say this year has been a challenging year for the West Virginia University baseball team would be a large understatement. After having high preseason expectations, to then battling a COVID-19 outbreak, West Virginia is playing their best baseball at the most important time of the year.
Coming into this season, it seemed as if West Virginia was going to make a run in the loaded conference that is the Big 12. The Mountaineers had the bats to compete with anyone, and the pitching to back up those bats, but things got off to a rough start. Right before the season started in February, West Virginia lost two key pieces to injury. Starting shortstop Tevin Tucker and right-handed pitcher Ryan Bergert both were announced to be out for the season. Soon thereafter, the Mountaineers got off to a shaky start in non-conference action.
West Virginia went 4-3 in the month of February, while being ranked No. 23 in the country. Then as soon as March hit, so did the struggles for West Virginia.
In early March, the Mountaineers went on a brief pause as they struggled with a COVID-19 outbreak, halting action from February 28th until March 12th. At the same time as this was happening, head coach Randy Mazey stepped away from the team due to personal reasons.
In only a month, West Virginia was without its head coach, had to deal with COVID, was without two of their better players and was then in the middle of their non-conference schedule. West Virginia went 4-5 in their next five games as they headed into conference play with their record sitting at 8-8.
The first weekend of conference play made it seem like West Virginia had turned the page and was past its struggles. West Virginia won a three-game series against Kansas, but the page had in fact not been turned. West Virginia proceeded to lose its next six conference series and struggled until these past couple of weeks.
Since May 11, West Virginia has won five straight games. Albeit these games were against Marshall, Miami (Ohio), and Dayton, winning five straight is a pretty large accomplishment considering what this team has been through.
“I actually think that we played pretty well this weekend because we played with little to no pressure on ourselves,” Mazey said. “The fact that we did play with little to no pressure on us – guys were laughing more in the dugout, and it seemed like nobody was upset about anything and we played pretty well. So, if we take the mentality into Austin and say we got really nothing to lose. [If] we don’t win the [Big 12] tournament, we are not playing in a regional. So, there is no pressure on these games at all, let’s just go out and have fun. And when you do that it’s amazing how you seem to play better that way.”
Hopefully for West Virginia, this momentum and looseness can carry into this weekend’s series against No. 2 Texas. As it stands right now, West Virginia is tied with Kansas for last in the Big 12 standings. However, things could get interesting this weekend if the Mountaineers are able to steal a game or two in Austin. If West Virginia can win two of the three games and improve its conference record to 9-15, they should be able to jump Kansas and Kansas State in the standings and earn the No. 7 seed heading into the Big 12 Tournament. Being the No. 7 seed compared to the No. 8/9 seed means the Mountaineers will have to play one less game as the tournament this year features a first round game between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds.
Although tournament seeding might not mean much at the end of the day, West Virginia playing their best baseball at the right time of the year is important. It shows how far this team has come, and it shows the character of their coach along with their players.
This team could have quit during the outbreak, they could have quit in the middle of their conference losing streak, they could have even quit before the season started, but they are starting to make the most of every opportunity. It is has led to their five game win streak and just maybe can lead to a magical run in the Big 12 Conference Tournament.