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The Press Box for June 5

By Staff | Jun 5, 2019

It’s not everyday that West Virginia University gets to host a regional NCAA sporting event. In fact it’s been 55 years since the Mountaineers entertained, however, this past weekend the Gold and Blue got the opportunity. It was a first class event all the way, it just goes to show when West Virginia does get an opportunity they make it count.

On Friday, we made our way over to Monongalia County Ballpark, in Morgantown, geared up for excitement. The first game pitted number two seed Texas A&M and the Duke Blue Devils. Duke came away with the win 8-5. It was a great game with the Aggies down 8-1 going into the bottom of the ninth and rallying for four runs,but falling short sending them into the losers bracket.

Every once in a while you attend a game and there is this one fan who really stands out. Most of the time they make a fool of themselves or get hoisted out by security, but Duke had to have the second best fan I’ve seen in a long time. A young lady who cheered and rooted on her Blue Devils from start to finish. She could absolutely be heard throughout the whole stadium and into the press box. Good positive cheering, no bull horn, just a set of lungs that some of us would die for. She was so good you could even hear her distinguished clapping. She was true Blue. We need more of that, real down to earth old time support, where you know every player by name and have no favorites.

As you see, as good as she was, I said she was the second best fan I’ve seen. Who’s the best? Well if you have ever been to a Mountaineer football game and watched the guy they spotlight dancing you know who I’m talking about. Oh, Yeah, he was there with his dancing shoes on. When the stadium cleared out after the first game, you knew it was going to be a special night. There they were lined up at all three gates 20 wide and thousands deep waiting to get in to see the (37-20) Big 12 Mountaineers battle the (38-22)Fordham Rams from the Atlantic 10.

The Rams put an early scare into the overflow crowd with four hits in the first inning and a 1-0 lead. However, a few innings later the Mountaineers with some great aggressive baserunning and a couple timely hits went up 3-1on their way to a 6-2 thrashing of the New York based team.

It was a great night to be at the ball park. The overflow crowd of 4,300 filled every seat and had others standing three deep in the walkways trying to get a view from the 3,500 capacity ball park.. The hillside high above the stadium was loaded with fans who couldn’t get in.

The Mountaineers were making their 13th NCAA Championship appearance in program history and first since 2017, when they advanced to it’s third final four regional in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Fifty Five years ago when WVU hosted the NCAA District 111 Championship and Wake Forest won a best-of-three series.

While hanging out in the press box, I noticed a man going into the Bob Huggins fantasy camp suite. I got a chance to go over and talk with my old friend from Moundsville.

Most of you know him from watching him run the floor in black and white stripes in high profile NCAA basketball games. One of the nicest men you’ll ever meet and possibly the best collegiate basketball official ever, the legend Teddy Valentine. Teddy was in Morgantown to speak at Coach Huggins fantasy camp and spend the weekend watching great baseball.

Valentine was a great baseball player for John Marshall back in his day and went on to play four years at Glenville, before coming back home to help John Marshall baseball Coach Bob Montgomery for several years.

The last game I attended was on April 13, when then number 11 Texas Tech fell to the Mountaineers 4-3 before 3,494 fans which broke the attendance record of 3.487 set 10 days earlier against Pitt, with WVU winning 5-4.

This season Coach Randy Mazey was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year and junior pitcher Alex Manoah was named the unanimous Big 12 Pitcher of the year. Mazey is the first coach in program history selected as the Big 12 coach of the year, while Manoah joins left hander Harrison Musgrave in 2013 as WVU’s only Big 12 pitcher of the year award winners.

The Mountaineer’s freshman class is the highest ranked recruiting class in program history. The roster includes 11 juniors, five sophomores, and 15 freshman. With several two-way players, four are catchers, 12 are infielders, nine are outfielders and 20 are pitchers. That includes 16 right handers and four leftys.

The Mounties fell to Duke by a 4-0 count on Saturday, but hope was still high as they moved to the elimination game with Texas A&M on Sunday at noon. After jumping out to a 4-0 lead the game was delayed for nearly two hours as storm one moved in. Once play resumed WVU upped the count to 6-0 with a two run homer and led 9-1 before storm two hit.

This time it was a different kind of storm! One grand slam by A&M closed the gap to 9-6. A little later with two down in the bottom of the 9th and the bases loaded A&M unloaded again with its second grand slam to win the game 10-9 and end the Mountaineers season.

Never made it over to the game but listened on the radio and was on my way to Morgantown for the night game. Like a lot of fans we figured it was over when the fireworks went off and the tournament hosts were booted out. What could I do but make a stop in Hundred for a great Sunday dinner at Miss Blues.

Take it from me, we might not host another regional in our lifetime but this was one we’ll never forget. eparsons@tylerstarnews.com