When crunch time approaches, most teams turn to their veteran leaders to carry the standard. West Virginia, however, has gotten a massive boost from a freshman.
The Mountaineers are currently fighting with a handful of teams for position in the Big 12 standings and opened their final weekend of the regular season with a 15-4 blowout. Freshman infielder JJ Wetherholt kickstarted the run in the bottom of the first with a two-run homer — his first of a three-hit, three-RBI night for the Mars, Pennsylvania native.
Wetherholt has emerged as one of the top Mountaineer bats, and he wasted no time picking Morgantown as his next home. The Class of 2021 product picked West Virginia in 2019 before other schools like Pitt, Duke and Notre Dame had the chance to offer him a scholarship.
“One of the biggest reasons was [Assistant] Coach [Steve] Sabins,” Wetherholt said. “It was a different recruiting feel from him just because he came to so many of my games that a lot of other coaches didn’t. Other coaches would invite you to a camp or maybe come out to one or two [games], but he’s came to probably close to 10 games of mine around this area.”
Wetherholt didn’t know exactly what to expect out of his first season with the Old Gold and Blue. After a “pretty decent” fall season, he expected to get some playing time, but not a lot — he says he just wanted to work hard and compete in the lineup.
“It’s working out pretty well,” Wetherholt admitted.
On opening day against Central Michigan, Wetherholt wasted no time in showing his value when he homered in his first at-bat. He finished the day 3-for-5 with four RBIs and has been WVU’s No. 2 hitter ever since with a .306 batting average and an OPS of .860 for the season.
The biggest challenge Wetherholt has faced has been the grind of a college baseball season. WVU has played 51 games so far this season, giving him plenty of opportunity for some low points, as his average twice has dipped below the .300 mark during Big 12 play as he fights off a nagging knee issue and some fatigue.
“One of the biggest things [Coach Mazey] told me was, we expect you to play a good amount, there’s going to be ups and downs, it’s all going to come and you’ve got to be able to fight through the ups and downs,” Wetherholt said. “For me especially, I started off really hot, then there was a cold streak kind of when Big 12 play started. When I thought back to what he said about ups and downs, it really helped me keep my head level. The highs don’t get too high, the lows don’t get too low, just come back and play baseball.”
Wetherholt’s success is also leaving an impression on his skipper, especially as the regular season comes to an end.
“He was hot early, kind of cooled off in the middle, but now he’s swinging it good again just in the nick of time because this is the most important time of the season,” Mazey said. “He’s swinging it pretty good, [Grant] Hussey is starting to see it pretty good, you worry about those freshmen who have never played a 50 to 60 game schedule that they’re gonna get tired and fall off at the end, so it’s encouraging to see that the young guys are playing good.”