The mindset coming from this year’s ball club is different, very different, than in years’ past.
Coming up short from where they were last year will be a disappointment, repeating the success from last year won’t be good enough, and getting to an NCAA Super Regional is the goal.
It’s an aggressive mindset, and it’ll take an aggressive team to do it. But that’s exactly what head coach Randy Mazey’s got.
“We feel like (we’re) coming off a good year; set the bar pretty high at this program,” Mazey said Friday. “Things have changed a little bit, as far as I’m concerned, with Mountaineer baseball.”
Expectations within the team have certainly been increased over the past few season, something that junior right fielder Darius Hill has been a part of from his first year with the Mountaineers.
“Getting here freshman year, the whole goal was … it’s been so close to making a Regional, and we finally made one last year,” Hill said. “Now the goal this year is to go further than that. Everything’s been taken to the next level.”
The three team representatives — Mazey, Hill, and shortstop Jimmy Galusky— all said the same three words when talking about this year’s club.
Deep. Experienced. Versatile.
Depth and versatility are one in the same, and yet different depending on what you’re talking about.
West Virginia is deeper than it’s been in the bullpen and in the starting pitching rotation. BJ Myers is an established starter (with relief experience as Mazey pointed out).
Behind him are a number of pitchers with both starting and relief experience. Some of those names include sophomores Isaiah Kearns, Alek Manoah, Sam Kessler, and junior Braden Zarbnisky, among others. One of those is redshirt junior Conner Dotson, who’s coming off a gruesome arm injury he suffered last year, but is expected to pitch this season.
“Conner Dotson is throwing really well right now. Coming off his injury that’s super encouraging,” Mazey said. “He’s throwing as good right now as anybody we have on the team.”
The depth, along with the addition of eight new pitchers, four of which are lefties, gives Mazey and new pitching coach Dave Serrano a number of options for multiple situations.
“We didn’t throw one pitch from the left side last year,” Mazey said. “But it would be nice if some lefties would really step up.”
The most noticeable of the new pitchers is freshman lefty Jackson Wolf, who stands at 6-foot-7.
West Virginia is also deep and versatile in what it can do in the field and at the plate.
When asked who would be taking over for Kyle Davis in left field, Hill threw out three names, all of whom can play another position as well, two of which will spend time on the mound.
When asked who would be taking over at third base for Cole Austin, Hill also mentioned multiple players, including Kevin Brophy and Ivan Gonzalez, who will mainly be behind the plate but has shown his versatility ever since earning significant playing time two seasons ago at the hot corner.
In terms of the lineup, Mazey, along with Hill and Galusky, all gave the impression the order will be balanced and will keep opposing team on their toes.
“We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things,” Hill said. “I think speed will be a bigger factor this year with the guys that can steal bases.”
Any increase in speed and stolen bases would only improve a Mountaineer team that was second in the Big 12 a year ago in that category, with Brandon White (13) and Zarbnisky (12) leading the way.
At the top and bottom of the order will be hitters that can do a little bit of everything – hit for average, situational hit, put down a bunt, steal a base, rattle pitchers on the base paths, etc. In the middle will be players hitting for power, but that can also do some of the aforementioned extras.
“We’ve got guys on the base paths that can really move around,” Galusky said.
The epitome of the Mountaineers’ versatility is Zarbnisky, a Preseason First Team All-American selection.
“Zarb” led WVU in hitting a season ago (.336) while also collecting six wins and six saves on the mound. Not only can he hit and pitch, but he also will spend some time in the outfield, either in left or center field.
On top of everything, West Virginia is experienced.
Despite having just two seniors, the Mountaineers are loaded with experienced players. Twenty four of the 28 non-freshmen have been in the program for at least one season, at least half of which have gotten a significant amount of playing time.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Mazey said. “We’ve got a lot of experience on this team. That’ll help us win games.”
Galusky agreed that the experience is important, especially late in the season.
“I think that helps you a bunch, guys that have seen the Big 12 Tournament and been in a (NCAA) Regional now,” said the junior shortstop. “I think that really helps you on down the road. The older guys have seen it and gotten the experience. I think it really helps you.”
In terms of newcomers, one name stood out: Tyler Doanes.
Doanes, a freshman from Fayetteville, Georgia, was ranked as the seventh-best shortstop in the state coming out of Whitewater High School. Mazey called him a “gamer” and said he’s got the ability to play multiple infield positions.
West Virginia begins its 54-game slate on Friday with a three-game series at Jacksonville. The Mountaineers begin the home portion of their schedule on March 16 against Canisius. They’ll also play games at Pittsburgh (Apr. 17) and at PNC Park against Penn State on April 10.
WVU will play the first two conference series on the road before hosting Oklahoma State, starting on April 13. The Mountaineers went 12-12 in Big 12 play last year, finishing fourth in the conference.