Just a few months removed from one of the most successful seasons in program history, Randy Mazey and the West Virginia Baseball team gear up for the 2018 campaign beginning this weekend.
A four-game fall slate begins Friday with the Mountaineers taking on Marshall and then playing in an alumni game Saturday. WVU will then play Bucknell on Oct. 15 and Delaware State on Oct. 21.
For Mazey and company, the fall games are a chance to learn the newcomers on his team.
“I’m anxious to play these games,” Mazey said Thursday. “(For) the new guys that we’re counting on helping the team in the spring, it’s nice to be able to get three or four games under their belt before it counts for real.”
West Virginia played to a 32-22 record in the regular season, and won four out of eight games it played in during the postseason, including its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1996.
A program-record twelve players earned All-Big 12 honors led by Braden Zarbnisky, who was named to the All-Big 12 First Team. Zarbnisky was also a 2017 Third Team All-American, the NCBWA District II Player of the Year and was a John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award finalist.
“Everybody’s looking at us now. Some people didn’t even know we had a baseball team in this state,” Zarbnisky said when asked about what last year does for the program. “Now everybody’s watching us and we have a target on our back. We just have got come out and meet everyone’s expectations and improve from last year.”
A total of twenty-six players return from last year’s team. That number does not include first baseman Jackson Cramer or reliever Jackson Sigman, who both graduated, or outfielder Kyle Davis.
Davis was taken in the 15th round of the MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, and Cramer was selected twenty rounds later by the Washington Nationals.
Sigman signed with the Royals as a free agent.
One player that the program planned on being in Morgantown that no longer is, is third baseman Cole Austin, who surprisingly transferred to Arizona State during the summer.
Despite losing those players, WVU still returns plenty of experience.
“You like the experience factor,” Mazey said. “Two years ago we were the youngest team in the nation when they were all freshman. Now they’re all juniors, so, it’s time for them to start getting some results. And that’s really what experienced teams are supposed to do. They’re supposed to win.”
The Mountaineers also added pieces during the offseason, both on the field and in the dugout.
West Virginia welcomed new pitching coach Dave Serrano to the program, who replaced former pitching coach Derek Matlock after he accepted the head coaching job at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Serrano is said to be one of the best pitching coaches in the country.
“I feel like I’ve gotten acclimated pretty well,” Serrano said. “It’s a good group of young men. It took me a little bit of time to get all their names underneath me. But I’m excited about the group I’m working with. I’m excited to be a part of this program under Coach Mazey’s tutelage.”
WVU’s 2017 signing class was one of the smallest ones since Mazey took over the program in 2013 with only eight signees. However, when it was announced last November, the head coach said, “This also may be the most talented class we’ve had.”
The class includes a pair of junior college signees in pitchers Will Reed and Christian Young.
In total, the class includes five pitchers, two infielders and a utility player.
“Tyler Doanes, and Connor Hamilton are freshman position players that we feel like have a chance to be really good players,” Mazey said.
He also mentioned a pitcher, Young, a 6’5” JUCO transfer out of Hamburg, NY. Serrano, too, mentioned the pitcher as someone he has an eye on.
“A very good pitcher that’s learning a new pitch – a changeup – and was drafted twice, so obviously Major League Baseball thinks highly of him,” Serrano said. “I think he’s a guy that has a chance.”
Moving on from last season, the goal from the Mountaineers is to host a regional in Monongalia County Ballpark and as Zarbnisky, specifically, said making it to Omaha, something the program has never done.