MORGANTOWN — As baseball seasons go, 2022 wasn’t supposed to be one of the best ever for West Virginia University as the team was picked to finish eighth in the Big 12.
But coach Randy Mazey, from the time he arrived on the scene in Morgantown a decade earlier, had never let things that looked bad become a problem.
That was obvious a year earlier when his son, Weston, who is known as “Wammer,” was engaged in a serious on-field accident. The 14-year-old was involved in a collision with another player as they went after a pop fly, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury and a fractured skull and numerous other serious injuries.
It proved to be a blessing in one way as the Mazeys founded a charity — “Team Wammer” — to aid the families of injured children and it became a success as 2021 turned to 2022 with Wammer picking up steam and playing high school baseball.
The season for WVU was a strong one, finishing at 33-22, but losing two straight to No.18 Oklahoma and Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament gave the year a disappointing finish, one that lacked a tournament bid Mazey thought it should have had.
“If you look back at the season we’ve had, it has really been a great year considering we were picked to finish eighth in the league,” Mazey said after being eliminated. “But you have no idea going into the season how good you’re going to be. So, for us to be able to do what we’ve done this season says a lot about our kids.
“As good as we played this year, I think we put ourselves in a position to play in the postseason. If we don’t, someone is going to have really explain to me how that happened.,”
Well, even though WVU’s 14 Big 12 victories were a school record, it didn’t happen and Mazey couldn’t add the NCAA Tournament to a resume that included one in 2017 and hosting a Regional in 2019.
Mazey came in and rejuvenated the program with four straight Big 12 Championship semifinal appearances from 2016 to 2019. More than that, he began sending WVU players into the major leagues, which was something that had been going on for a couple of decades.
Getting national attention peaked in 2021 and 2022, first with left-handed pitcher John Means.
In 2021 Means had become the ace of the Baltimore Orioles’ staff, capping it off with one of the most impressive no-hitters of all time, facing only 27 batters and pitching the first non-perfect game in which no one reached base via a walk, hit by pitch or error.
The only baserunner came on a dropped third strike, which is ruled a passed ball.
Means was geared up for a big 2022 season when he was injured in his first start of the season, had to undergo Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the year.
On May 15, former WVU pitcher Michael Grove made his major league debut, starting for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who made him a second-round draft pick four years earlier. He worked 3 2/3 innings, gave up four unearned runs, while striking out three and walking three. The Dodgers won the game 5-4 on a walk-off two-run double by second baseman Gavin Lux, whose error led to the four unearned runs off of Grove.
Grove, who had been drafted while recovering from Tommy John surgery, pitched in seven major league games during the season, finishing at 1-0 with a 4.60 ERA while splitting the season with time at Oklahoma City.
WVU graduate Alek Manoah of Toronto became the talk of the American League, especially after he captivated the nation by wearing a mic while pitching during the All-Star game an inning in which he struck out three batters and had fun going back and forth with Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz in the broadcast booth.
The two yakked it up while he was dealing, closing it out screaming “Three punchies … let’s go,” as he raised his arm and left the mound.
Manoah was selling the kind of fun players WVU was turning out and the team Mazey had put on the field proved that.
This was old-time, Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Maury Wills kind of baseball. The Mountaineers finished second in the nation in stolen bases with a school-record 156 in 55 games, Victor Scott II leading the way with 38, also a school mark.
That earned Scott a spot in the fifth round of the MLB draft when St. Louis chose him, joined by right-handed pitcher Jacob Watters, the fourth-round pick of Oakland, and Trey Braithwaite, whom Cincinnati selected in the 16th round.
Watters had been a third-team preseason All-American pick of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.