It’s only fitting that Randy Mazey’s first season as West Virginia University’s baseball coach ended with a victory.
After falling behind 5-0 to an Oklahoma State team fighting for its NCAA tournament life (the Cowboys seemingly used all nine of them to get in as a No. 3 seed in this year’s tournament) during Saturday’s Big 12 tournament game in Oklahoma City, the Mountaineers erupted for five runs in the bottom of the sixth and eventually won the game in the 10th on Jacob Rice
’s RBI single to right.
However, Mazey’s former team TCU couldn’t come through for him in the nightcap against Kansas to extend West Virginia’s season, the Horned Frogs falling 4-0 to the Jayhawks to set up an Oklahoma-Kansas Big 12 title game on Sunday that the Sooners captured, 7-2.
WVU, needing to win its way into this year’s NCAA tournament, simply came up short. No, West Virginia’s season didn’t end in defeat – the Mountaineers just ran out of time.
Mazey has given the West Virginia baseball program a big boost of energy, from the players on the field to the record-setting number of fans sitting in the stands to the old alums who are anxious and eager to once again be a part of a baseball program that everyone here can be proud of.
At one time in the early 1960s, baseball used to be considered West Virginia’s No. 3 sport behind basketball and football. That’s when coach Steve Harrick was consistently winning Southern Conference titles and sending the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament.
Then, in 1967, Harrick had reached the state’s mandatory retirement age and his young protégé Dale Ramsburg took over a WVU baseball program that was right away searching for a new place to play. The State Legislature had approved a brand new Coliseum to be built right on the spot where the baseball team was winning all those Southern Conference titles and the baseball team had no place to call home.
After a couple of years playing at Morgantown St. Francis High, baseball found a new place to play in 1971 on a sunken piece of land below the Coliseum which came to be known as Hawley Field.
Budgetary limitations kept Ramsburg’s teams from enjoying any consistent amount of success in the 1970s, and when the purse strings were eventually loosened a little bit in the 1980s, Ramsburg’s teams won Atlantic 10 Conference titles and advanced to NCAA tournament play in 1982, 1985 and 1987.
Once more, in 1994, Ramsburg reached the NCAA tournament in what was to be his final season coaching the Mountaineers. The courageous coach was suffering from cancer that year and he eventually succumbed to the disease later that fall.
WVU made one more NCAA tournament appearance in 1996 under second-year coach Greg Van Zant before the program endured another inconsistent period leading into this season.
It was during that last trip to the NCAAs in Clemson, S.C., in ’96 when I first became aware of 29-year-old Randy Mazey. He was leading an out-manned Charleston Southern team to its first NCAA tournament appearance in school history that season and it was also at Clemson where I got a glimpse of Mazey’s mentor Jack Leggett in action for the first time.
Leggett walked out to home plate to deliver the team’s lineup card to the home plate umpire, went over the ground rules with the visiting coach, shook his hand, and then turned around and took off on a dead sprint down the third base line to his Clemson players standing outside the dugout waiting to take the field. They jumped up and down and carried on like they had just won game seven of the World Series.
My initial reactions were likely the same as everyone else's over the years who have witnessed this scene play out in front of their eyes for the very first time … What in the world is going on here? Has this guy lost his mind? Are these guys down in Clemson nuts or what?
But the fans loved it and the players really looked forward to their pregame ritual. You could tell right away the Tiger players really enjoyed playing the game, really enjoyed playing the game with each other, really enjoyed playing for their coach and they left everything they had out on the diamond when the game was over.
You ALWAYS needed to play all 27 outs to beat them.
That’s what we saw this year with Mazey’s first Mountaineer team – a bunch of guys who really enjoyed playing the game, really enjoyed playing the game with each other, really enjoyed playing the game for their coach, and, they left everything they had out on the diamond when the game was over.
Also, you ALWAYS needed to play all 27 outs to beat them.
West Virginia University Director of Athletics Oliver Luck has decided to make a major investment in baseball at West Virginia University. He championed a new ballpark that will one day become the centerpiece to Phase Two of the University Town Centre shopping plaza development.
But, even more importantly, he brought in Randy Mazey to become the program’s caretaker. With the right support, a lot of baseball games can be won at West Virginia University. Steve Harrick proved it could be done in the 1960s and Dale Ramsburg proved it again in the mid-1980s.
I see a lot of similarities between Mazey and Leggett - how they conduct themselves on and off the field and how they run their respective programs - and I think Mountaineer fans everywhere are really going to enjoy what is about to take place here on the baseball diamond in the years to come.Check out Antonik's book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores and online at your favorite retailers. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.