For West Virginia baseball fans it may feel like Braden Zarbnisky has been a Mountaineer for 10 years, at least.
The Marietta, Georgia native first got to Morgantown in 2016 and has played a lot of baseball for the Mountaineers since. A two-way player, Zarbnisky had 412 at-bats and made 50 pitching appearances in his first three seasons in the gold and blue.
His 2017 sophomore season was nothing short of incredible. In 52 games he hit .336 with a .417 on-base percentage. He also stole a dozen bases and scored 32 runs. That offensive production on its own would have been impressive, let alone his work on the mound.
As a pitcher in 2017 Zarbsniky appeared in 23 games, throwing 39.1 innings with a 2.75 ERA and a 6-2 record with six saves. He struck out 46 compared to just 21 walks and allowed only seven extra-base hits.
After the season Zarbnisky was named a Third Team All-American, District II Player of the Year, Big 12 All-Tournament Team, All-Big 12 First team and was a John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Finalist.
He took a bit of a step back as a junior in 2018, with his ERA rising to 4.62 and his batting average dropping to .259, but all that did was set him up to have a big bounce-back year as a senior in 2019. That did not happen, however, as Zarbnisky sat out the entire season with an injury. He could only watch from the dugout as WVU enjoyed one of its best seasons in program history, hosting a regional championship for the first time since the 1950s.
That just meant 2020 would have to be Zarbnisky’s bounce back swan song at WVU. The way the season started, it was looking like that would be exactly the case.
Zarbnisky started the season on fire, recording multiple hits in eight of the team’s first 10 games. Even when he started to cool off, it was not by much.
In the 16 games West Virginia played in 2020, Zarbnisky batted .431, collecting 28 hits, 13 stolen bases and 16 runs scored. Head coach Randy Mazey was not using him much on the mound to start the year, but even in his four appearances he had pitched 4.2 scoreless innings.
After the team combined to no-hit Kent State on March 4, Zarbnisky said he was just happy to be back playing and was hoping to keep his hot start going.
“It was tough to miss last year, obviously, but I just kept grinding and kept working and got fully healthy,” Zarbnisky said. “It’s been nice being back out there and starting off hot and hopefully I can maintain it.”
Now, as is the case with so many other student-athletes, Zarbnisky’s senior season has been unexpectedly cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak.
When the Big 12 announced the cancelation of Spring sports last week, Zarbnisky’s comeback season, his final year as a Mountaineer was over, with no ceremony or fanfare. His Mountaineer career, over just like that.
‘What We’ll Miss’ is a series that will look at all the potential storylines that won’t be able to happen because of the Big 12’s cancelation of Spring athletics. The first two stories in this series include the basketball team playing in the NCAA Tournament and wrestler Noah Adams’s would-be shot at a national championship.