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West Virginia Baseball: The Path to Super Regionals

West Virginia Baseball: The Path to Super Regionals

WEST VIRGINIA BASEBALL: THE PATH TO SUPER REGIONALS — As we hit the Super Regional round, many of the usual suspects have made it through to this level. Just take a look at the location of the Supers: every one has either an SEC or ACC host.

But their opponents are far more varied. Never before has the NCAA baseball tournament seen a higher number of No. 3 and No. 4 seeds qualify for Supers. In fact, zero No. 2 seeds managed to qualify for this round. Out of the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, two are making their first-ever appearance at the Supers: Evansville and West Virginia.

Related: NCAA Baseball Tournament – Greenville Regional

The Purple Aces’ run to this level is more typical of college basketball’s March magic. A smaller school wins its league tournament, gets an opportunity and upsets the apple cart. It’s a great story, and one that makes college sports special.

But the Mountaineers’ story is more of a long-term run. West Virginia has been on this path since the day the school moved into the Big 12 and decided it was going to play baseball with the big boys. Here’s a look at how West Virginia got here and why the Mountaineers have staying power as they head into a matchup with North Carolina.

Making the Investment

To get a greater understanding of how West Virginia got here, you need to go back to the school’s move to the Big 12. The Big East might have made geographic sense for West Virginia at the time, but it wasn’t a football conference and it wasn’t (and still isn’t) a baseball conference.

To put it kindly, college baseball in the Northeast and Upper Midwest is a tough sell. There’s a reason that the Big Ten dominates in football and basketball season but is little more than a wanna-be in the spring. There’s also a reason that the SEC and ACC dominate on the diamond, and it’s because of weather and investments.

Related: NCAA Baseball Tournament – Tucson Regional

College baseball isn’t college football. It still takes money to win, but not nearly as much as it does to win in football. And in the Big 12, which featured schools in Texas and Oklahoma, baseball’s a big deal. The league has regularly been the No. 3 conference in the nation, and with the likes of Arizona and Arizona State coming aboard (Colorado doesn’t play baseball and Utah isn’t a top program), it’s only going to get better.

West Virginia had a choice to make when it joined the Big 12. Its ballpark, Hawley Field, was barely up to high school standards. The ballpark wasn’t a great facility for the Big East, let alone the Big 12. The Mountaineers could try to compete with substandard facilities, which probably wouldn’t end well. They could have followed Iowa State’s lead, as the Cyclones don’t play baseball. Or they could bite the bullet, build a new park and bring their facilities in line with the conference.

Obviously, West Virginia chose option No. 3. The Mountaineers opened Monongalia County Ballpark in 2015, and their facilities have been an asset ever since.

Finding the Right Leader

This kind of success doesn’t happen without the right coach in place. When West Virginia entered the Big 12, the program was in rough shape. Besides the facilities, the Mountaineers had just finished 11th in their final season in the Big East. They hadn’t placed higher than fourth in five of their final six Big East seasons, and now they’d have to take on the likes of Texas and Oklahoma.

Enter Randy Mazey, a former assistant at TCU. As the son of a coal miner from Johnstown, Pa., Mazey understood what West Virginia is all about. Like Johnstown, Morgantown lives in Pittsburgh’s shadow, and it’s a tough, prideful place that rallies around its own.

Related: NCAA Baseball Tournament – Chapel Hill Regional

West Virginia isn’t blue blood; it’s blue collar. And that kind of mentality trickled down to the Mountaineers through Mazey, who had seen big-time baseball up close and knew what had to happen to get the Mountaineers to that level.

Under Mazey, the Mountaineers installed a mindset of having to get better every day to reach the levels of their competition. And in his time in Morgantown, West Virginia’s had just one losing season, which came during the post-COVID chaos of 2021. The Mountaineers broke through to regionals in 2017, and they won 40 games for the first time in 2023.

Discovering the Gems

West Virginia infielder JJ Wetherholt has developed into a top hitter under coach Randy Mazey. (Photo courtesy of West Virginia Athletics)

The biggest part of the Mountaineers’ success is the same reason for any team’s success: good players. Mazey and his staff have excelled at finding diamonds in the rough — no pun intended — and developing them into stars. JJ Wetherholt, for example, went undrafted in 2021. He’s since become Big 12 player of the year and will likely be a top-five draft pick this summer.

Derek Clark will get the ball against North Carolina in the first game of the Super Regionals. He spent his past three seasons in Division II, and he’s blossomed into a true ace. His gem against Dallas Baptist set the tone for the Tucson Regional, and the Mountaineers rode that momentum into their first Super Regional.

Reed Chumley shouldn’t have been overlooked, given that he was an all-state shortstop in Texas in high school. But he bounced around, playing at Odessa College, Cisco College and Houston Christian before he arrived in Morgantown. He now leads the Mountaineers in home runs.

And that’s one reason why Mazey’s comfortable stepping away from West Virginia whenever this season ends: he knows he’s left a real foundation. Regardless of what happens in Chapel Hill, getting this point has been the culmination of a 12-year journey that makes the process an integral part of sports.


  • Dan Angell, Contributor

    Dan is originally from Virginia and has covered basketball games across the country over the past 18 years. He now resides in Indianapolis and loves a good defensive showcase. His Twitter @danangell11.

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