MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Heading into the 2021 baseball season, the West Virginia University baseball team had high expectations from around the nation.
However, the start of the campaign was challenging for the Mountaineers.
First, WVU’s skipper Randy Mazey missed numerous games, dealing with family issues. Then COVID affected the team like everything else.
When several players contracted the virus, the Mountaineers had games postponed. Also, they had to play a lineup full of freshmen at times.
WVU had to overcome injuries to key players. Losing Tevin Tucker and Ryan Bergert before the season began were huge hits to the team.
As the saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That was exactly the case for the Mountaineers.
In Wednesday’s 9-3 win over in-state foe, Marshall, WVU got a complete game in every area. The bats were popping, the defense was solid and the pitching was clutch.
“We’re starting to swing it OK, and our defense has been pretty solid the whole season,” Mazey said. “It’s just all about those guys on the mound. It was refreshing to see some guys throw pretty well tonight.”
On the mound, the Mountaineers have been plagued with inconsistency and depth with the exception of junior pitcher Jackson Wolf. WVU’s team ERA is 5.51.
Through 27 games, the Mountaineers’ pitching staff has surrendered 242 hits, 171 runs and 19 home runs. Opponents are batting a .266 clip against them and they have issued 124 free passes.
When the starters get solid outings, the bullpen hasn’t held up.
“We need somebody else to step up and give us some starts, Mazey said. “It’s no secret. I say that every time somebody interviews me. Starting pitching is the key to this thing. We’re trying to find pieces and he’s got a history here of being able to start. He’s going to have to have a shot at this thing, so it was good to see him go out there and throw up some zeros and get some of his pitches back. He looked a little bit like the Jake Carr of old tonight in the first inning.”
In its last two games, WVU has gotten solid outings from everyone who took the mound.
Against the Thundering Herd, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound southpaw pitched four innings, giving up just one run on two hits. He walked only one batter and fanned three.
“He’s just pitching up in the strike zone,” Mazey said about Carr. “Some guys have a fastball that’s conducive to being able to pitch up in the strike zone like Madison Jeffrey that throws it up there, 95, 96 miles per hour and guys swing through it but Jake is not that guy. He is a two-seam fastball guy with sink and run on his ball.
“He can’t just pitch up in the zone like other guys. That’s what he was doing early on. We made a conscious effort here in the last couple weeks to get his fastball below the belt and thrown on the knees and when he does that, he gets a lot of ground balls. That’s how he got out of the first inning with the double play ball. It’s starting to come for him. He’s starting to get a little more confidence and starting to spin his curve ball a little more. He’s trending in the right direction for sure.”
Currently, WVU is playing in one of the toughest baseball conferences in the country. They will need the pitching staff to continue and improve if the Mountaineers have postseason aspirations.
While WVU is a relatively young team, the youth is getting plenty of chances to grow.
“When we had the COVID thing going on, the guys got a lot of at bats the first three or four weeks of the season than they normally would have gotten,” Mazey said. “Because we had a lot of guys out with COVID. Early on before you start conference, you try and get those freshmen as many AB’s as you can. Usually, it’s about five or 10 each going into conference play. You don’t ever really know what you have until they become an everyday guy but they had to play so much early on, it kind of gives you an indication of what they can do for you. Guys like Holbrook and Mikey (Kluska) and those guys have gotten in there. Braden Barry has gotten in there a lot and have showed pretty well for us. Those guys are going to have good careers.”
The Mountaineers remain at home this weekend for a three-game series against Texas Tech, beginning on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Cover Photo Credit: Dale Sparks- All Pro Photograohy