A baseball player’s value is pretty well quantified by his performances in the box scores.
Every action on the diamond has a name, then it gets recorded and counted. By conventional standards, WVU right fielder Austin Davis is a more than solid baseball player, batting .284 with nine steals on the season, the second-most in the Big 12.
Those numbers don’t measure the other aspects of his game, however. Now in his fourth season with the Mountaineers, Davis has established himself as one of the best athletes in the nation, earning a green light on the base paths that rattles opposing pitchers.
He did exactly that on Friday against Ohio State. Davis hit his first single of the game off Buckeye starter Nate Haberthier in the sixth inning, which is when his fun really began. He took a wide lead off the first base bag during the subsequent at-bat, bouncing and feinting towards second base to grab the attention of the hurler.
It worked — Haberthier tried his luck with a pick-off to first base, but missed the throw. Davis sped to second, flashing a peace sign back to first base.
“I love it, I can tell when I get under their skin,” Davis said. “They start mixing up their looks, they’re rattled throwing a pitch they don’t ususally pitch. It’s fun.”
Just one pitch later, Davis trotted home after Haberthier gave up a home run to JJ Wetherholt, but the pitcher’s pain wasn’t over. Victor Scott followed Wetherholt’s homer with a single, then stole the next two bases before scoring on a wild pitch.
“It’s crazy, we have so much speed throughout the lineup,” the freshman first baseman Wetherholt said. “But I mean we make some pretty ridiculous plays, we’re always competitive at the plate, the athleticism is through the roof.”
WVU’s offense, which scores the third-most in the Big 12 so far, has thrived because of its speed. The Mountaineers are back on top of the conference in stolen bases (a familiar spot for them), and it’s not even close: their 49 steals is more than double that of the second team, Oklahoma, who has 24.
It’s paying off on the scoreboard, too, as their 9-5 record is their best start since 2016. Four of those wins have been comeback victories, aided by savvy work on the basepaths.
“Without our speed and athleticism, we wouldn’t be in the situations we are most of the time,” Davis said.
West Virginia is making a return to the speedy, blue-collar style of play colloquially termed “Mazey-ball,” when the Mountaineers manufacture runs in unconventional ways. That, of course, is led by the No. 1 hitter, Davis, but Mazey’s deep roster is giving him a boost in later innings as well.
“I tell the guys all the time, you don’t have to be a great hitter to be a great offensive player, there’s other things you can do to help the offense,” Mazey said. “Just like in basketball or football, you don’t have to be the guy that scores to really help the offense. We’ve got so many guys that have different roles on this team, I’ve never had that where you can pinch run guys and pinch hit guys, everybody’s sliding into a really good spot right now.”
The fact remains that three-quarters of the season still remains ahead of WVU. History is on the Mountaineers’ side, though, as they have typically caught their stride in the second half of their campaign.
This is especially true of Davis, who finished 2021 with one of the best offensive stretches by any player in the country.
“I’ve got to just stay confident in myself, no matter my ups and downs, because in baseball you’re going to get out sometimes,” Davis said. “You’ve just got to stay up all the time, be a team player and when the team things come, great things come for you.”