WVU Baseball Opens Season Friday Ranked No. 22

Grove to open season in dugout with injury

MORGANTOWN — The first day of spring is more than a month away.

But, that won’t stop No. 22 West Virginia University’s ‘Boys of Spring’ from opening the season with a trio of games at John Sessions Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., beginning Friday.

“Don’t know and don’t know,” veteran skipper Randy Mazey said. “Early in the year you try different combinations of guys and whoever wins the job wins the job.

“Everybody will get a chance and we’ll see who steps up.”

Coming off a 36-26 overall mark (12-12 Big 12) and an appearance in a regional championship final, Mazey returns 23 letterwinners and six starters as he enters his sixth season at the helm of the Mountaineers program.

“I’m confident in them as long as they don’t get caught up in all of the hype around the preseason ranking,” he said. “Once we reached this level I don’t think it’s going to be two steps forward and one step back. I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position with recruiting.”

It doesn’t hurt to have a roster which includes a preseason All-American.

Junior right-handed pitcher/outfielder Braden Zarbnisky was selected to the Preseason All-American First Team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Zarbnisky, who was named as a utility player, is the seventh Mountaineer in program history to earn such a distinction and the third since Mazey took over the helm in 2013. He joins Matt Schubert (1992) as the only WVU player to be recognized on the first team.

At the plate, Zarbnisky led the team with a .336 batting and .417 on-base percentage and finished second with 12 stolen bases in 12 attempts. He had 42 hits with 12 RBI, 17 walks and 32 runs scored.

On the mound, the Marietta, Ga., native led the team in both wins and saves, with six apiece, finishing with a 6-2 mark and 2.75 earned run average. In 39.1 innings pitched, he struck out 46 and allowed 12 earned runs on 35 hits.

WVU is one of four Big 12 teams to open the season in the Top 25. Texas Tech comes in at No. 3, while TCU is No. 7, Texas in No. 21, and the Mountaineers at No. 22.

Last year, the Mountaineers entered the national rankings for the first time since 1982 and were ranked nationally in five of the six major polls for the first time in program history.

“There’s still room for improvement,” Mazey said. “This year we are going to try and do something that hasn’t been done before — win a regional.

“We’ve got some experience on this team. Now, it’s about pitching, hitting and catching. We are going to have to come and play like we are capable of playing every night.”

Adding to the hopes of an even better 2018 campaign is the return of redshirt junior pitcher Connor Dotson, who made six appearances a year ago before sustaining a season-ending arm injury.

The Texas native posted a 3-3 with a 5.53 ERA, striking out 26 in 27.2 innings before the injury.

Wheeling native Michael Grove will start the season in the dugout after sustaining a season-ending arm injury last season.

The junior-to-be was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team and earned both National Player of the Week and Big 12 Pitcher of the Week after taking a perfect game into the eighth inning against Kansas.

“(Connor) Dotson is throwing really hard right now,” Mazey said. “(Michael) Grove isn’t going to start the season, but he will be a month-to-month thing.”

At the plate the Mountaineers return sophomores Ivan Gonzalez and Kyle Davis, who finished second and third on the team behind Zarbnisky with a .317 and .316 batting average, respectively.

Mazey also added a new member to the coaching staff since last season.

Taking over as pitching coach will be Dave Serrano, who has won 446 games and taken two different teams to the College World Series as a head coach.

“He brings a lot of credibility with him,” Mazey said. “He is considered one of the best pitching coaches in all of college baseball, and his track record in developing pitchers at a very high level certainly proves that.”

WVU opens its home season with a three-game series against Canisius beginning Friday. Other games of note include a home encounter with Pitt on Tuesday, March 27; a clash with Penn State at PNC Park on Tuesday, April 10; and road games at Pitt on Tuesday, April 17, and against Marshall at Appalachian Power Park on Tuesday, April 24.

The Mountaineers will also play host to the Thundering Herd on Tuesday, May 15.