Randy Mazey doesn’t have trouble remembering what was said about his program when West Virginia joined the Big 12 from the Big East seven years ago.
The words come back to him all too easily.
“The common theme was, `Football’s going to be fine. Basketball’s going to be fine. Poor baseball,’ ” WVU’s baseball coach said. “What’s going to happen to the Mountaineers in the Big 12?”
Mazey eased those fears from the outset, finishing third in the conference in 2013. Tuesday, he brought his team to Pittsburgh to play Pitt at PNC Park, leaving with a 9-4 victory, a 32-18 record and Mazey’s 221st triumph as WVU’s coach.
From the third inning when they scored three times and clubbed three of their six doubles in a 14-hit attack, the Mountaineers were dominant. The timing couldn’t be better.
The nationally ranked Mountaineers (No. 20 in the National College Baseball Writers Association poll; No. 19, according to Baseball America) will open the Big 12 Tournament next Wednesday as either the third, fourth or fifth seed.
“It’s a tribute to the culture we’ve established and the hard work that goes into it by so many different people,” Mazey said. “Once you establish the culture and you start bringing in players the caliber of these guys, that’s how you win championships.
“When you start the season, you tell the team all the time, you want to be playing your best baseball at the end of the year,” said Mazey, a player of some repute himself while growing up in Indiana County and going to United High School. “Everything you go through during the season, the wins, the losses, the traveling, getting walked off, walking off, learning about your team, shuffling lineups, that’s all really valuable experience. If you learn from it, that’s how you play your best baseball at the end of the year.”
Pitching at his best right now is starter Nick Snyder, who struck out 11 Pitt batters among his 103 pitches in seven innings. He allowed only three hits (a home run to Nico Popa and two singles). He’ll be the starting pitcher Wednesday in West Virginia’s tournament opener, perhaps a serendipitous turn of events for the Mountaineers.
Snyder, who took a no-hitter into the ninth inning April 30 against Marshall, has been WVU’s midweek starter all season, so he hasn’t pitched against a Big 12 team. “Keeping him in his routine is going to keep him pitching as well as he has,” Mazey said. “He’s in a great rhythm now. No Big 12 team has seen him yet.”
Snyder was one of eight juniors and seniors among WVU’s 10-man starting lineup against Pitt. That experience is sure to be of service on a national stage.
“I really like the pieces of the puzzle right now,” Mazey said. “It seems like it took us forever to figure out who’s going to play where and where they’re going to play in the lineup. As we sit here today, our best lineup is on the field, which is super encouraging.”
Five Mountaineers had at least two hits against Pitt, including right fielder Darius Hill, who doubled twice to give him 73 all-time, tying him with WVU great Jedd Gyorko, now playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It’s unbelievable to be mentioned in the same breath as him,” Hill said. “Really cool to have my name on that record.”
Due to his background, Mazey knows as well as anyone how the game can turn against even the best players. He’s encouraged, but far from satisfied.
“I can tell you right now some things that I know for sure are going to happen,” he said. “You’re going to give up home runs if you’re a pitcher. Umpires are going to make bad calls. If you’re a hitter, you’re going to strike out. If you’re a defender, you’re probably going to make an error. I can say that stuff with certainty.
“Good players when that happens can handle it. If you’re not prepared for it, all of a sudden and 0-for-15 slump can turn into 0 for 30 in a hurry. Over the course of 60 games, Darius will tell you, sometimes the baseball looks like a beach ball coming in there and other days it looks like a tic tac.”
The Mountaineers have been warned by their coach.
“We can’t start throwing parties and feeling good about ourselves just yet,” he said.