The West Virginia University baseball team has seven regular season games remaining before heading to Oklahoma City and the Big 12 tournament.
Only the top eight teams in the conference earn a spot in the Big 12 tournament. WVU was picked to finish last in the preseason and therefore not even expected to compete in the conference tourney.
The Mountaineers did not pay any attention to those preseason projections. Instead, they ignored their underdog role and currently sit tied for first in the Big 12.
They are no longer viewed as the underdog by opponents. They are considered contenders and the Mountaineers are a confident team.
"The key to making the players confident is to be confident as coaches," WVU Head Coach Randy Mazey said before practice this week. "They can't believe in themselves if the coaches don't believe in them. I told them from the beginning we are behind them all the way. We are their biggest fans. We want all of them to do really well. Because they sense we have confidence in them as coaches they have confidence in themselves."
On March 19, WVU had won just eight of its first 20 games. Since then the Mountaineers have won 21 of their last 29 games. Currently West Virginia is 29-20 overall. That is a remarkable turnaround and due in large part to the players accepting their roles on the team.
"Being a northern team and having to practice indoors a lot it takes you 15 or 20 games to figure your team out," Mazey stated. "You have to settle on a lineup and figure out what roles pitchers can pitch in. But, once we settled on a lineup and guys fit into different roles, then some guys calmed down and relaxed a bit and didn't put pressure on themselves. Once we did that our guys started playing with some confidence."
Not only was it Mazey trying to get a grasp on his team, but his team needed to better understand what he wanted as a head coach. This is his first season as Head Coach at West Virginia and he is arguably the frontrunner for Big 12 Coach of the Year. Not only is West Virginia a contender to win the Big 12 regular season title, WVU could make its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1996.
"Whether or not somebody catches it or hits a home run off of you it is out of your hands," Mazey said. "That is kind of the way the NCAA tournament is. Hopefully the people who make the decisions will recognize our effort and what we have done the last 20 or 30 games. Hopefully they will look kindly upon the Mountaineers."
West Virginia's tournament resume will be a difficult one for the selection committee. WVU is No. 68 in the RPI. However, as Mazey indicated, it is a much different team in the past 30 games than it was in the first 20. Mazey has been to 15 NCAA tournaments. Each selection committee is different, but he hopes this one will put some weight on recent success.
"I think you hear people on the committee talk all the time that one of the things they look at is what have you done for me lately," Mazey stated. "Finishing strong is really important."
There are 34 at-large bids to the 64-team NCAA tournament. WVU can earn an automatic bid by winning the Big 12 tournament later this month.
For now, Mazey is trying to navigate his team through finals week and preparation for this weekends three-game series against his former team, TCU. Mazey spent the past six seasons as an assistant with the Horned Frogs.
Game one of the three game series will be played Friday night at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.