A culture change has taken place within the West Virginia baseball program.
After a 21-year drought, West Virginia received a bid to the NCAA tournament after finishing the regular season with a 34-24 record, which included series wins over ranked teams in Coastal Carolina, Baylor and TCU, boosting its RPI.
West Virginia came one win away from advancing to the Super Regionals last season, but despite racking up two wins against Maryland, the Mountaineers fell to Wake Forest in the Regional Final by a score of 8-5 in Winston-Salem.
Now, the Mountaineers look to take the program to new heights.
“We haven’t really accomplished anything before last year,” junior infielder Jimmy Galuski said. “We keep going up, keep climbing the ladder. I think maybe this year if we keep climbing the ladder, we’ll end up maybe with a Super Regional and see what happens from there.”
West Virginia has continued to build off of the successes of previous years.
The Mountaineers finished .500 in 2015, lost in the Big 12 Championship to TCU and narrowly missed an NCAA tournament bid in 2016 and then advanced to the NCAA tournament last season.
“Everything’s been taken to the next level,” junior outfielder Darius Hill. “The goal this is to go further than (the Regional).”
Experience is on West Virginia’s side for next season.
The Mountaineers lose just three hitters from last season’s lineup in first baseman Jackson Cramer, left fielder Kyle Davis and third baseman Cole Austin.
Jackson was drafted in the 35th round in the Major League Baseball draft this past summer by the Washington Nationals and Davis was drafted in the fifth by the Houston Astros. Austin opted to transfer to Arizona State after recording a .302 batting average last season.
Despite these departures, the Mountaineers have a variety of options to fill these voids including redshirt sophomore T.J. Lake and the versatile junior Braden Zarbnisky in left field and junior Ivan Gonzalez, freshman Tyler Doanes and sophomore Kevin Brophy at third base, but a big part of the focus remains on continuing and building the success of the program.
“They’ve set the stage and now it’s our turn to keep that going,” Hill said.
On the mound, West Virginia returns multiple starters and bullpen relievers and have added a new pitchers coach in Dave Serrano, who has previously served as the head coach of Tennessee, Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine. Serrano led both Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine to a College World Series appearance.
“They’re buying into what he’s teaching,” head coach Randy Mazey said. “I think they’re buying into the success he’s had.”
Overall, this returning experience along with the addition of new faces including Doanes brings depth, versatility and a stronger mentality within the team.
“With so many guys back, we know the preparation. We know what it takes and I think that’s just accelerated our work ethic to be even more this year,” Hill said. “There’s just this new level of focus and work ethic that everyone’s bringing every day which is really encouraging to see.”
Through the eyes of Mazey lies a complete team, but it’ll be imperative for the Mountaineers to win some of these early games as it could come back to haunt them if they’re on the bubble like in 2016.
That season, West Virginia dropped two games to Canisius which Mazey believes cost the team 20 RPI points which could’ve helped its case for a national tournament bid.
In the meantime, the Mountaineers are eager to begin the season next Friday in Jacksonville and live up to this season’s high expectations.
“Everybody’s ready to go,” Galusky said. “We’re going to be pretty prepared to go to Jacksonville and see what we can do.”