MORGANTOWN W.Va. – This time last year, tears were shed as West Virginia baseball learned its postseason fate, or more literally, that they would not receive one.
On Monday, that memory took a backseat to the current moment when WVU was announced as the No. 2 seed in the Lexington Regional.
“[Monday was] just the complete polar opposite [of] last year when we were told we were not in,” sophomore infielder JJ Wetherholt said. “Pretty much everyone was in tears crying [last year].”
In 2022, the Mountaineers missed the Field of 64 despite a 33-22 record and the 49th RPI ranking. As the head of the program, head coach Randy Mazey was notified the night before the annual selection show that WVU would miss the cut. Mazey knew he could not let his players experience heartbreak on national television.
“I knew [that we missed it] last year. We didn’t gather for the show,” Mazey said. “I had to tell them ahead of time that we didn’t get in. I’ve been in that room when you gather for the show and don’t get in. I told them last year when we met after we didn’t get in. I told them all, ‘Remember this feeling [and] how bad you feel right now. Remember it. That will serve for you to play with a chip on your shoulder this year,’ and I think we did that.”
That “chip” has been a recurring theme all the year. It resurfaced when the Mountaineers were selected to finish sixth in the Big 12 in its annual preseason coaches’ poll. Now, while experiencing the program’s worst losing streak in over two years, a tournament appearance was inevitable thanks to contributions earlier in the season.
“We were very upset that we didn’t get in [last year],” senior shortstop Tevin Tucker said. “We thought we did everything we could, but just like coach said, we carried that chip on our shoulder the whole year. We didn’t want to make any doubt this year. We just wanted to go out, play our game, and we left no doubt out there.”
That mentality snowballed into the best regular season in WVU program history in terms of record, and the first regular-season Big 12 title since entering the conference in 2012. The Mountaineers were ranked as high as No. 6 in the country, and were atop the Big 12 standings for a large chunk of the season.
This year, there was no doubt that there was a spot for WVU in the tournament. The question was simply, “Where?”
“I love that surprise, I didn’t know where we were going,” Mazey said. “It’s super cool to see your name. It doesn’t happen that often, and it’s really hard to do, so when you see it, it’s a great feeling.”
Not even a third of the way into ESPN2’s Selection Monday telecast, WVU’s placement was set in stone. The Mountaineers heard they are heading to Lexington, Kentucky, along with Ball State and Indiana, for No. 12 overall seed Kentucky’s Regional. WVU will play No. 3 seed Indiana Friday evening at 7 p.m. ET.
Some players in the WVU players’ lounge appeared stoic after the announcement. Others let loose during their mere seconds-long spotlight on the Worldwide Leader. There did not appear to be any tears.
Mazey and his wife Amanda peered on happily. They know exactly what this means.
“We’re in the postseason,” he said. “That’s a big deal at West Virginia.”