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Baseball Preview: WVU opens season in Jacksonville



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West Virginia starts the 2018 baseball season in the Sunshine State, taking on the Jacksonville Dolphins in a three-game set this weekend.

Randy Mazey’s club is coming off one of the program’s most successful season’s ever – its first trip to the NCAA tournament in over two decades – but the feeling around the team is that this year could be even better.

A triple threat of depth, experience, and versatility leads West Virginia into Jacksonville for the first series of the year, and the first of 15 games in a row away from home to start.

“It’s kind of hard to start the year on the road every year,” junior shortstop Jimmy Galusky said. “We open up on the road every year it’s tough.”

WVU’s depth cannot be understated.

The Mountaineers return over 80 percent of the innings pitched, and 65 percent of the runs scored last year. They also return regular starters at five of the eight non-pitching positions.

On the mound, senior BJ Myers, will make his second career Opening Day start and leads a pitching staff that has gotten deeper and has a new coach in Dave Serrano. In the bullpen is NCBWA Stopper of the Year candidate, and preseason All-American First Team member Braden Zarbnisky, who finished 2017 with six wins and six saves on the bump.

Myers will be joined by sophomore Alek Manoah in the starting rotation, though the third weekend starter has yet to be determined.

Returners Isaiah Kearns, Sam Kessler and Kade Strowd, and JUCO-transfer Christian Young are all said to be vying be starting spots.

Mazey said earlier this month that his pitchers will be on a pitch limit to start the year in an attempt to save the arms for what hopes to be a deep postseason run.

Perhaps the biggest positive for the pitching staff entering the year is that redshirt junior Conner Dotson appears to be ready to pitch in games again after his season was cut short last year due to a gruesome arm injury.

“Conner Dotson is throwing really well right now,” Mazey said. “And coming off his injury that’s super encouraging.” He continued to say, “He’s throwing as good right now as anyone we have on the team.”

The Dolphins played their way to a 37-24 mark last year, including a 20-9 home record, but lost two of three in their first trip to Morgantown. Michael Grove and Strowd earned wins on the mound for WVU in the series, with Jackson Cramer truly giving the Mountaineers the win in the series-opener with a two-run walk-off home run.

All three of Jacksonville’s weekend starters – Chris Gau, Tyler Santana and Mike Cassala – have been announced.

Last year the Dolphins were the opposite of a power team at the plate, with Sam Armstrong’s team-high 10 home runs accounting for over one-third of the team’s production in that statistic. He returns for his senior season to lead a Jacksonville offense, along with infielders Angel Camacho (.299) and Scott Dubrule (.281), who are two of the top returning hitters in terms of average.

The first game of the season is set to begin Friday at 6 p.m., with first pitch on Saturday and Sunday coming at 2 p.m. and 12 p.m., respectively.

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