"Everyone is saying it’s a rebuilding year,” Vance said, “But I think we have stuff to build upon. I think we are going to surprise some people.”
West Virginia already has in the preseason poll. Two years after being selected last by the Big 12 coaches – and trumping that prediction by a whopping six spots to finish tied for third – the Mountaineers were picked a higher-then-expected sixth this season, behind powers TCU, Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, all rated in the nations’ top 25. Oklahoma was fifth, with Baylor, Kansas and Kansas State finishing in order behind WVU.
That’s a tall order with nearly zero pitching returning except Vance, who represents 58 of West Virginia’s 61 innings pitched of a total of 478. It is, head coach Randy Mazey has said, the biggest rebuilding job of his career. But Vance, a redshirt junior, provides a touch of security as a Saturday starter. If the Mountaineers run into a top flight ace, which is most common on a Friday in a three-game weekend series, Vance could be a stopgap to gain a split over the first two, giving WVU a chance to take the set on Sunday.
Vance, in an exclusive BlueGoldNews.com interview below, noted the Mountaineers suffered through injuries throughout the fall and spring preseason, while many first-year players adjusted to WVU’s throwing program, which is unlike anything the majority of high schools schedule. From bullpen sessions and long toss to situational set-ups and trying to spot players able to hit the zone with a trio of pitches, West Virginia’s staff has been forced into quick teaching and, hopefully, quick identification of the starters and ‘pen set-up entering a schedule with 22 of the first 223 games on the road. West Virginia lists whopping 16 right-handers on staff, with just one, Chad Donato, having thrown a pitch for the Mountaineers. WVU, with Vance, has three lefties.
“Everyone’s in a different spot (developmentally), so it’s hard to make out a program for each person right out of the gate,” Vance said. “Some players try and push it too hard too fast in trying to make a name for themselves right out of the gate and then end up tweaking something. But everyone’s healthy now and feeling good. Ready for the season. … There’s a big difference between high school games and college games. High school games you can get away with a lot more misses than you can at this level. Trying to get kids to miss in the right areas and keep their composure on the mound. … It’s maximizing whatever stuff they have and not trying to make someone be someone they’re not.”
Vance, 3-4 last season with a 3.41 ERA over seven games started and 17 appearances, worked to improve not just his overall velocity, which is below average foe the collegiate game, but also the movement on his fastball to create an out pitch, and not just one used as a set-up to get to some of his wicked breaking pitches.
“I needed to improve my fastball,” Vance said. “It seemed like last season I threw my fastball just so I could get to my breaking ball. I wanted to improve my fastball command and I definitely thing I did that over the summer and offseason. I’m more worried about movement and how the ball comes out of my hand.”West Virginia opens Feb. 13 at Clemson in a three-game series. Mazey played for the Tigers from 1985-88 before two seasons as a professional player. He was an assistant at Clemson from 1990-93.