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The Final Musket Blast: West Virginia Surpassed Expectations

The Mountaineers overachieve despite missing the postseason

Morgantown, WV - The West Virginia Mountaineers baseball season officially came to an end Monday afternoon after failing to make the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year (not counting the 2020 canceled season).

There were low expectations heading into the year after the Mountaineers finished the 2021 season 25-27. West Virginia had no established returning starting pitching and had to replace key pieces within the starting lineup.

J.J. Whetherholt and Austin Davis celebrating at home plate. 

J.J. Whetherholt and Austin Davis celebrating at home plate. 

The Mountaineers were voted by the media to finish eighth in the preseason Big 12 Conference standings but ended the season at sixth, and although that doesn’t seem like a big jump, West Virginia finished with a program-record 14 Big 12 wins. Since WVU joined the Big 12 in 2013, the team finishing third in the standings had an average win total of 13.9 wins while sixth is generally at 10.5 wins, three and a half games below .500. WVU finished four games above .500 in one of the toughest leagues in the country and set some program records along the way. Simply put, the Mountaineers finished well above what anyone thought they would.

West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey filled out some needs in the offseason, utilizing the transfer portal to his favor, snagging relievers Trey Braithwaite (Navy) and Chase Smith (Pitt), and catcher Dayne Leonard (Virginia Tech), who played his way into an everyday starter, while a pair of talented freshmen Grant Hussey and J.J. Wetherholt made a significant impact on the season.

J.J. Wetherholt

Freshman infielder J.J. Wetherholt.

Pitching was a big question mark coming into the year. Mazey went with sophomore Carlson Reed as the day one, weekend starter after a good summer and fall but the sophomore lacked consistency, and still, in search of starters, Mazey moved Preseason Stopper of the Year candidate Jacob Watters from the bullpen to the starting rotation. By the time Big 12 play began, Watters took over day one duties while sophomore Ben Hampton solidified himself as the starter in the middle game. However, Sundays became pitching by committee until Aidan Major (3.49 ERA) reigned in the starting Sunday role by end of the season.

The Mountaineers were not for the faint of heart to begin the season, often having to make comebacks in the final innings to grind out a win, but they were off to one of the hottest starts in program history and nabbed some quality wins along the way. Despite the early success, doubts remained going into Big 12 play, and the concern lied more with the talent within the rest of the Big 12 rather than West Virginia’s shortcomings, although worries grew after a loss to a struggling Pitt team on the road just days prior to the start of the Big 12 schedule. Pitt did follow the win by going on a tear in the ACC before collapsing at the end of the season.

Braden Barry

Leftfielder Braden Barry charging home. 

West Virginia’s Big 12 opener was on the road at TCU, the eventual regular-season champions, and the Mountaineers took the three-game series 2-1, marking the first time the Mountaineers went into Ft. Worth and won a series. However, the Mountaineers dropped every series against the rest of the teams that finished above them in the standings (Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas) but did sweep Baylor and Kansas State. Without a doubt, the Mountaineers missed opportunities for series wins over Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State but they stood toe to toe with the best of the Big 12.

There were some disappointing losses in non-conference play. The Cambria College Classic, hosted by Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in early March was not kind to the Mountaineers. West Virginia beat Minnesota in the first game but dropped games to Illinois and Michigan State. While that can be written off as an obscure atmosphere at a pro football stadium in the early portion of the season, it did hurt the RPI.

I would be remiss not to mention the Pitt loss because, well, it’s Pitt.

However, the loss that hurt the Mountaineers the most came against a sub-.500 Penn State team at home, which also ended a five-year home winning streak for non-conference midweek games. Nonetheless, this team continued to show heart and grit throughout the year.

Jacob Watters

West Virginia starting pitcher Jacob Watters.

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The 2022 edition of the Mountaineers stole a league-leading 156 bases on the year, shattering the record of 114 set in 1986. Victor Scott swiped a conference-best 38 bases, which set a program record, besting Mickey Mamarella’s record of 29 in 1986.

The Mountaineers were undoubtedly a fun team to watch. A young group with a couple of veteran outfielders Victor Scott and Austin Davis blanketing the outfield, swiping bases, mixed in with second-year players progressing within the program.

Sophomore McGwire Holbrook and senior Austin Davis swapped leading the team in batting average throughout the season before Dayne Leonard got hot at the end of the year and finished with a team-leading .331 batting average. In total, four Mountaineers hit over .300 on the season. Davis was second averaging .330 at the plate, Holbrook followed at .326 and freshman J.J. batted .308, also he led the team in doubles with 17.

McGwire Holbrook, Steve Sabins

McGwire Holbrook (25) and assistant coach Steve Sabins (22).

Aside from his 38 stolen bases, Victor Scott also hit a team-best 47 RBI’s.

Freshman Grant Hussey led the team in home runs with 11, sophomore Braden Barry hit five of his six home runs on the season in May and shortstop Tevin Tucker’s return to the lineup shored up the middle of the infield.

The pitching staff had its struggles, but Mazey had the arms to stop the bleeding with Navy transfer Trey Braithwaite leading the bullpen with a 1.70 ERA and appeared on the Midseason Stopper of the Year Watchlist.

Ben Hampton showed the most consistency throughout the season and led the Mountaineers with eight wins and 90 strikeouts.

Victor Scott at the plate in the first inning.

West Virginia centerfielder Victor Scott.

When Watters was on, he was nearly unhittable and showed it against Texas with a career-high 15 strikeouts, however, did pick up the loss in the pitching duel.

In all, West Virginia was never expected to be in any postseason conversation this season. It was a rebuilding year, which seems to have become the norm around the country in the post COVID era, but they excelled early and often. It was unexpected, to say the least. Just when you thought the youth in the lineup would catch up to this group, they found another gear and pulled out more wins.

They were fun, they were fast, and the good news is, that the entire batting lineup has eligibility remaining along with all three weekend starters. A record-setting group potentially returning most of its pieces, could be the prequel to an epic run in 2023. 

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