MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When West Virginia (17-10) stepped onto the field for the first time this season, a pair of true freshmen were featured in the starting lineup.
The two first-year players, third baseman JJ Wetherholt and first baseman Grant Hussey, have been mainstays in the lineup ever since. Each have played in every game but one this year.
That is because had success at the plate through their first 26 games at the collegiate level. Wetherholt is third on the team with a .320 batting average, and Hussey leads the Mountaineers with six home runs.
While the two have gotten off to a good start to their college baseball careers, overall, both struggled somewhat at the plate in their first taste of Big 12 competition against No. 12 TCU.
“Friday didn’t go my way, obviously it wasn’t a really good game,” said Wetherholt. “[The Big 12 is] a different skill level. It’s people who, you know, they can pitch on both sides of the plate. They don’t really leave stuff down the middle. [Velocity] is increasing.”
Wetherholt finished the series by going 1-for-9 at the plate against the Horned Frogs. He struck out three times in the series opener on Friday, but settled in after that. The freshman drew three walks and scored a run on Saturday, and logged his first Big 12 hit on Sunday.
“That was something, just trying to stay relaxed after a rough day on Friday,” Wetherholt said of Saturday’s performance. “And then I finally got a hit through on Sunday, so I was definitely getting more comfortable as the games went on.”
TCU pitching got the best of Hussey on Friday, as well.
The Parkersburg South High School product suffered four strikeouts in the series opener. He was then sat down on strikes three times on Saturday before also collecting his first conference hit in the series finale.
In total, Hussey went 1-for-11 with nine strikeouts in his first taste of Big 12 play.
Despite the raw results at the plate, Wetherholt said both he and Hussey got more comfortable as their first conference series progressed.
“I honestly tried to make as much light of it as possible,” Wetherholt said. “Just like, ‘Hey dude, look, we’re playing Big 12 baseball. It’s another level. It’s serious, but we’re supposed to be here.’ We knew we were supposed to be here, and that we’re good enough to compete with these guys. So, I think once we sat back and relaxed a little bit, tried not to get down on ourselves, and just play for the team, things got better for us.”
Opposing pitching staffs have taken different approaches against Hussey and Wetherholt since the start of the season. There is more information on their tendencies when at the plate.
The two first-year hitters, and practically everyone else in the WVU batting order, will face shifts or other defensive alignments as more data on their tendencies becomes available throughout the remainder of the season.
“The pitching coaches, I think, they also break down the hitters,” said Wetherholt. “They come up with an approach for every one of us. So that was definitely a big adjustment.”
West Virginia and its freshman hitting duo will get another shot at Big 12 pitching this weekend, when the Mountaineers host Baylor (16-12) at Wagener Field at Monongalia County Ballpark.
Wetherholt is coming off of arguably the best performance at the plate of his young career. He went 4-for-5 with two doubles, three runs batted in and a run scored in Wednesday’s dominant win over Marshall.
Hussey was 2-for-3 with a run scored against the Thundering Herd.