HUNTINGTON — The 2019 season has been one of the most successful for West Virginia University baseball and the team looks to continue that success Friday at home in Monongalia County Ballpark. The Mountaineers begin the double-elimination NCAA Morgantown Regional at 8 p.m. Friday against Fordham on ESPN3.com.
Barboursville native and former Cabell Midland High School pitcher Madison Jeffrey has been on the mound for some of that success this season.
“To be honest, from the beginning I knew this was going to be a good team,” said Jeffrey. “We just have this team chemistry. The older guys took us younger guys under their wing so this season didn’t surprise me.”
West Virginia’s pitching staff has been a key to a team that went from a 29-27 finish in 2018 to a 37-20 record and a No. 15 national tournament seed this year.
A win Friday night puts WVU in a 6 p.m. Saturday matchup against the winner between Texas A&M and Duke. A loss to the Atlantic 10 champion Rams on Friday would put the Mountaineers in a 2 p.m. game Saturday against the Texas A&M-Duke loser.
“I don’t know much about them,” Jeffrey said of Fordham. “I know I just want to be playing at 6 p.m. on Saturday.”
Jeffrey has appeared in 12 games as a WVU freshman, pitching 11 innings and allowing four hits while striking out 12. He has struggled with walks, issuing 12 free passes and giving up eight earned runs. His has a 6.55 ERA.
The 2018 Mountain State Athletic Conference Player of the Year has an 0-1 record after a rough outing against No. 11-ranked Oklahoma State last week in the Big 12 Conference tournament championship game.
The relief outing saw Jeffrey strike out two in 12/3 innings, but he also walked two batters and hit another before being pulled in the fifth inning. The Cowboys rallied to take the lead en route to the win.
Yet the player ranked No. 1 in West Virginia as a high school senior by scouting service PBR didn’t let that sour his opinion of this season’s accomplishments.
“I’ve been very pleased with my progression,” Jeffrey said. “I came in throwing between 88 and 90 miles per hour to throwing 94 miles per hour now and I touched 97 [mph] this year.
“It’s not just my velocity, either, but my command has gotten better. I’m mentally tougher and physically tougher. It’s just unreal how much I’ve progressed.”
Tracy Brumfield, Jeffrey’s head coach at Cabell Midland, has seen the progression in his former star player too.
“He’s improved so much,” Brumfield said. “I knew he had the capability. His work ethic in the weight room his junior and senior year has helped him. What he’s got [at WVU] is a great process.”
Jeffrey credits work in the weight room, support from WVU head coach Randy Mazey plus the atmosphere created by the returning players as reasons for his success.
Mazey, Jeffrey said, created a “brotherhood” among the Mountaineers’ players and coined the team motto “All In.”
That’s why Jeffrey said, despite the big stage in the conference championship game, Mazey didn’t hesitate to give the ball to his freshman right-hander to defend what was at the time a 1-0 lead for West Virginia.
“I love that guy,” Jeffrey said. “He just knows so much about baseball and he also helps us in growing up as men, showing respect for people and for ourselves.”
Jeffrey said Mazey addressed his returning players about not hazing the younger players and instead welcoming them.
Jeffrey said the older players were more than happy to share tips with him on pitching against competition in the Big 12. It helped him get over the nervousness he said he felt coming in as a freshman.
While Mazey hasn’t addressed the future with him, the coach told Jeffrey that he could be a “premium closer.”
The freshman hurler wants a chance to enter the Mountaineers’ starting rotation at some point, but said he’s happy to take on any role asked of him.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey said Mazey pulled all his pitchers aside at practice and each was given the option of throwing a bullpen session on Tuesday or Wednesday. The message was the same as it was before WVU’s run through the Big 12 tournament — anyone might be called upon to pitch at a moment’s notice.
The rough outing against Oklahoma State served as a learning experience for Jeffrey, who said the next time he’s given the ball he’ll be ready.
Brumfield said either role will suit Jeffrey’s abilities. Zach Baldwin, a former Cabell Midland player whom Jeffrey credited with much of his development, also said that a spot in WVU’s starting rotation could happen but added that, with his fastball, curve ball and cut fastball, Jeffrey has the tools to be a good closer.
“It’s just amazing what happens with a Power Five weight program and what it can do for you,” Baldwin said. “[Jeffrey’s] command is getting better from what it was two years ago.”