Crucial Days

For a lot of coaches, the first few weeks on the job are some of the most crucial days of their career.

That was extremely true a little more than a year ago when Randy Mazey was named West Virginia's head baseball coach.

After he was able to get his coaching staff put in place by the beginning of July, the newly hired manager and his assistants quickly shifted their focus to an important task – putting together a recruiting class before school started in August.

Within the next four weeks, the class grew from just two incoming players to a group of 19 future Mountaineers that – although he didn't know it at the time – would go on to have a huge impact on WVU's surprising 2013 season.

"My assistant coaches were road warriors for that four-week period, flying from one end of the country to the other in a moment's notice," Mazey said. "Anywhere that a player would pop up, we'd go see them and then try to get them on campus and show them around.

"We did a ton of work in a really short period of time to get the guys we got."

It was a unique group of players. A mix of high school prospects, junior college players and a few other transfers made up the foundation of the staff's first recruiting class at WVU, and it brought in plenty of players who would go on to play a major role on the Mountaineers' surprise 2013 season -- one that ended in a third-place finish in their first year in the Big 12. That was a major turnaround from a 2012 campaign that was the program's worst in nearly a decade.

The group Mazey brought in gave West Virginia two talented bats in the middle of the order (Ryan Tuntland and Jacob Rice), one of its weekend starting pitchers and closer (Jhon Means and Pascal Paul), as well as a handful of other players who made major contributions.

Rice led the team in hitting with a .333 batting average – ninth in the conference – in his first season at WVU, while Tuntland hit .325 with three home runs and 36 runs batted in before being the first Mountaineer selected in this year's Major League Baseball draft in the 28th round by the San Francisco Giants.

Means was second among the team's weekend starters with a 3.34 earned run average and had a 4-4 record in his 13 starts in 2012, while Paul finished fifth in the Big 12 with eight saves.

Mazey's goal with the class was to find as many talented players as he could who might be able to come in and compete right away, mostly due to the fact that they didn't really know exactly what kind of players they had coming back from the 2012 team.

"All we knew about those guys was what it said on the stat sheet," Mazey said. "Basically, our fall practice was a big tryout to see who was going to play and who wasn't."

Once the 19 incoming players got on campus in the fall, the distribution between returning players and the new ones the coaches had just brought in was split about half-and-half -- something Mazey admitted worried him a little at times as the Mountaineers used the fall season to try to get the two groups to mesh together.

"Any time it's a situation like that, the returning guys may have a tendency to feel a little bit threatened that people are coming in to try to take their positions from them," Mazey said. "At the same time, the new guys might come in and think they're going to be superstars in this program. There were a lot of good players that were already here that gave us a nice foundation to work with when we mixed in the new guys from that class."

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