The breaking news out of Morgantown on Monday was men’s basketball player Sagaba Konate submitted his name for the 2019 NBA Draft and plans to sign with an agent. While new rules say Konate could still return to WVU if not drafted, there is an addendum.
According to a contacted Mountaineer representative, Konate can’t return “if he signs with a non-NCAA certified agent.” Which means that’s probably the way he’s headed. Which means he’s probably gone. Which means WVU fans should simply bid him farewell.
Yet while that’s the breaking news, I suggest Mountaineer fans become more intrigued with breaking balls and fastballs in Morgantown. Because it’s getting good in relation to Coach Randy Mazey’s program.
If you’re a WVU fan, perhaps you’ve already been keeping an eye on the team. But a deeper dive shows there’s more to like than simply standout pitcher Alek Manoah.
Don’t misunderstand. Manoah might be WVU’s best athletic story this school year. He’s certainly nearing Big 12 pitcher of the year honors. He has to be a serious candidate for the 2019 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award. And he’s almost certainly a first-round (if not high first-round) Major League Baseball draft pick in June.
Think not? Well, consider Manoah is the Big 12’s No. 1 pitcher in earned run average (1.81) and strikeouts (95). The righty is 6-2 on the year and has allowed but one home run. Yes, one — playing in the Big 12. He’s averaging 12.27 strikeouts per nine innings. Oh, and those 95 strikeouts? The next highest in the conference is 77 by TCU’s Nick Lodolo.
So Manoah is the individual story of the team. But the team is a pretty good story itself. The Mountaineers are now ranked No. 17 by D1Baseball.com, highest among Big 12 teams. In the league standings, West Virginia is tied for third with Texas Tech at 8-7, behind Oklahoma State at 10-5 and Baylor at 9-5.
The No. 17 ranking is the highest since 1982, when the Mountaineers were No. 16 in the final Collegiate Baseball newspaper poll. In 2017, when WVU reached the regional final at Wake Forest, the Mountaineers climbed to No. 20. This is only the fifth time since ‘82 WVU has been ranked (twice in 2017, once in the preseason last year and twice this season).
“The biggest thing,” said WVU assistant director of athletics communications Charlie Healey, “is pitching overall has been solid this season.”
Indeed. Yes, Manoah has been stellar, but WVU has been successful on Saturdays and Sundays, not just Fridays, when the 6-6, 260-pound junior usually pitches.
The other starters have pitched in, placing the Mountaineers No. 1 in ERA among Big 12 teams at 3.22. Lefty Jackson Wolf is No. 14 in the Big 12 in ERA (3.61), while righty Kade Strowd is No. 18 at 4.13. Righty Sam Kessler is third in the conference in saves with six.
Now West Virginia just needs the bats to heat up. The Mountaineers are seventh (.248) in the league in batting average. Infielder Tyler Doanes is No. 19 in the league at .482.
“It’s coming along,” Healey said. “We had a little bit of a cold start, but you face big odds every day in the Big 12. It’s coming along.”
Perhaps the best story about the team comes via the best player: Manoah.
“He’s committed – as he has been all year – at, yes, getting better, but also at helping the team win,” Healey said. “You see it not only on Friday night, but look at him in the dugout mid-week and Saturday and Sunday. He congratulates the others coming off the field. He’s as much a supporter on his off days as he is when he’s on the mound.
“He’s not just sitting there waiting for June [and the Major League Baseball draft]. He’s participating. He’s the biggest team guy there is. It’s something to see. It’s fun to see his emotional investment in the team.”
Perhaps that helps explain why WVU is 24-14. Perhaps that explains why the Mountaineers are drawing well.
“The biggest takeaway from this team,” Healey said, “is they love playing ball together.”
The Mountaineers next play Penn State at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at Monongalia County Ballpark. They follow the single game with three at Texas beginning April 26 when Manoah begins.
Follow Mitch Vingle at @MitchVingle on Twitter. Also, Mitch will host WVU assistant basketball coach Ronnie Everhart in Wheelhouse Creative’s “Off the Record” live show this Thursday, April 27, (7 p.m.) at Generations Pub in Wheeling. We hope you’ll turn out.