The baseball edition of the Backyard Brawl earned an exciting new chapter on Wednesday — a priority for WVU skipper Randy Mazey, who has made it a priority to keep writing the history of the storied rivalry during his tenure.
The Mountaineers evened the season series with the Panthers in an 11-inning thriller at PNC Park, keeping the all-time tally in favor of WVU 111-93. After the game, Randy Mazey was happy that WVU’s fans will be giving Pitt supporters the elbow at the water cooler, as he says, since the rivalry is still very real to the fans of both teams.
The story is a little different for the players on the field, however. Only three players in WVU’s starting lineup on Wednesday hailed from either West Virginia or Pennsylvania, the same number of Floridians who made the card.
“You have to kind of explain that to our guys, because we don’t have many West Virginia kids on the team…so when you mention Backyard Brawl, those kids from Florida and Georgia, they don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mazey said.
Games like Wednesday’s, he adds, will make the rivalry strong again. The Panthers had won 11 of their previous games before entering PNC Park and were climbing the ACC standings after winning their last four conference series. On the other end, WVU had just dropped its first league series to No. 5 Oklahoma State on the tail end of a hot streak that rocketed them into the NCAA Tournament conversation.
That set up a one-game showdown for two teams with postseason implications on a big league diamond.
“The Mountaineer fans get mad at me all the time when I say I actually want Pitt to be good, and they are good, and that makes me happy,” Mazey said. “Because it makes the rivalry better and stronger, and it makes the games better….It puts more implications on the game, you get better crowds and there are more RPI implications. There’s all the reason in the world that I want them to be good and ol’ Coach [Mike] Bell, a good friend of mine, should want the Mountaineers to be good.”
West Virginia’s triumph is already showing an impact in the RPI. Entering Wednesday, Pitt was three spots ahead of West Virginia in the rankings at No. 43 — on Thursday, the Mountaineers had leapfrogged the Panthers seven spots to No. 39, while Pitt slid to No. 48.
Playing against Pitt is a priority for Mazey in the long term. His ideal scenario is a three-game series every season, like the 2022 edition of the Backyard Brawl: one game at Pitt’s Cost Field, one at Monongalia County Ballpark and one at PNC Park. So far this season, WVU has already played Pitt at Cost Field, losing 9-6, along with Wednesday’s clash at the home of the Pirates.
If history continues, Mazey and his Mountaineers would have a statistical advantage with that 1-1-1 set-up as well. WVU holds a 12-6 record over Pitt under Mazey, including two wins over the Panthers at PNC Park. On top of that, West Virginia has won all four of its games at the Pirates’ current home, including two additional victories over Penn State.
That type of success has made Mazey jokingly consider building a replica in Morgantown. Even beyond that unbeaten record, though, Mazey has made no mistake of underselling the importance of competing at a big league park.
“Before the game, we talk about the fact that every pitcher that went out there today put his footsteps on the same rubber as Mariano Rivera and all the greats that have ever pitched here,” Mazey said. “It’s pretty cool to say you’ve shared that rubber with some of those guys, and our guys that hit got to stand in the same batter’s box as the Barry Bondses, the McGwires, the Trouts and all the greatest players that have ever played here, so all that stuff’s cool, but when the game starts, it’s all about winning the game, too.”