WVU overcame many obstacles before it made history with a run to a super regional

MORGANTOWN — The journey to a super regional is one Randy Mazey has been on before, but this one, he admits, comes with more storylines, more emotions.

It was those emotions that ran through Mazey minutes after West Virginia had just won the Tucson (Ariz.) Regional on Sunday with a 10-6 victory against Grand Canyon that rushed to the forefront.

Mazey’s impending retirement from college baseball is now calculated by days and weeks, rather than months.

Three players sitting next to him in the press conference, Aidan Major, J.J. Wetherholt and Logan Sauve, had just described how much their coach had meant to them in their own college experiences, and then it was Mazey’s turn to describe his feelings.

His eyes began to water slightly, his voice cracked, before he took a deep breath to collect himself.

“I want it so bad for the guys who’ve never experienced it before,” said Mazey, who also led East Carolina to a super regional in 2004. “I try not to talk about that much. I try to keep that to myself. You have no idea how bad I want these guys to experience that.”

Getting there is a story nearly beyond belief, as WVU (36-22) will play in its first super regional later this week at Chapel Hill, N.C., only after taking a number of side routes and detours to get to that destination.

It was never smooth sailing this season for the Mountaineers, not that any of that will matter against the No. 4 Tar Heels (45-14), who advanced after winning a 4-3 thriller in 10 innings Monday against LSU.

The hero was Derek Clark, who not only pitched a complete game to start the regional for WVU, but he also came back to close out the ninth inning two days later in the deciding game.

“As soon as (Saturday night’s) game ended, he came to me and said he was ready to go (Sunday), put me in there,” Mazey said. “He was ready and he can throw a lot of pitches.”

But Clark wasn’t throwing any pitches at the start of the season, a result of an injury that held him out until March 8.

Injuries became a theme, to the point where it once looked like Mazey’s final season would be derailed by them.

Wetherholt seemed destined to make a run at just about every single offensive mark in the school record books, but then a pulled a hamstring in just the fourth game of the season cost him 24 games.

Sauve, who batted .462 and drove in six runs in the regional, was on course into becoming WVU’s next budding star behind Wetherholt.

Then he took a fastball to the leg in the 12th game of the season that cost him 16 games.

Closer David Hagaman was lost for the season due to an arm injury. Starting pitcher Gavin Van Kempen, who is second on the team with six wins, was also lost for the season with an arm injury.

Infielders Brodie Kresser and Grant Hussey — the school’s all-time leader in home runs — also missed multiple games due to injuries.

Others began to step up. Aidan Major, who was supposed to be a relief pitcher this season, instead came out and became a dominating starter early in the season.

Arm soreness then began to set in and Major became less effective.

He hadn’t pitched since May 5, but there he was Sunday night getting the Mountaineers out of a first-inning jam and then pitched through the fifth inning.

“There’s been a lot of emotional ups and downs,” Major said about dealing with the time off. “There were days it felt like my world was ending.

“It’s been a month since I’ve pitched, but the whole coaching staff has been ‘Hey, just take care of yourself, do what you need to do and be ready to go. We don’t know when that moment is coming, but you’re going to throw at some point, and it’s going to be a big moment.’ ”

Throw all of it together, and even Mazey speculated a few weeks ago on what WVU’s season might have looked like without all of the setbacks.

Maybe the Mountaineers could have contended to host a NCAA regional, rather than falling to the No. 3 seed in Tucson.

The two constants were Mazey and his players’ desire to get back on the right path after taking so many detours.

“I knew from the start of the year we had a chance to do something special,” Wetherholt said. “All of us came together. When we don’t feel well, we could remember this was coach’s last year, so it doesn’t matter how we feel, we just have to go out and do something cool for him.”

Getting to a super regional for the first time in school history would classify as pretty cool, but even in his most triumphant of moments, Mazey displayed his own sense of humanity and what one last super regional meant to him.

“When I make a bad call, call the wrong pitch, bunt when we’re not supposed to bunt, that’s why it bothers me so much,” he said. “I want it for these guys, the entire university, community and the state. I want it so bad for everybody. That’s why it’s so stressful when it doesn’t go well every day. That’s why it hurts so bad, because it means so much.”