Iowa State softball, West Virginia baseball form friendship

Published 1:47 am Friday, April 21, 2023

The Associated Press

West Virginia doesn’t have a softball team. Iowa State has no baseball team.

So a friendship was formed between the Big 12 schools’ existing squads on the diamond as well as among their fans.

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“It’s kind of taken a life of its own, it appears,” West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said.

The bond began after Cyclones outfielder Lea Nelson responded to a Twitter post after the men’s and women’s basketball teams ended their respective seasons last month that said there were no sports to talk about at Iowa State until football practice starts in August.

“Well this is awkward,” Nelson tweeted, a nod to the fact that — hello! — spring sports do exist in Ames, Iowa.

In the absence of their own softball team, some West Virginia followers took notice and started rooting for the Cyclones.

Fast forward to last Friday, when Iowa State made a weekend trip to play softball at Oklahoma State. West Virginia was already in Stillwater, Oklahoma, for a three-game baseball series. Nelson stepped forward on Twitter to ask if anyone associated with the Mountaineers had extra tickets.

“We really wanna support our baseball team tomorrow at OSU,” Nelson tweeted. “Could you help us make that happen?”

West Virginia pitcher Noah Short responded, “We’ll hook y’all up!”

“Let’s gooooo!” Nelson replied.

Iowa State had a full contingent of players in attendance for West Virginia’s 9-5 win Saturday night and took a team photo from the stands.

“Your biggest fans!” outfielder Angelica Gonzalez said on Twitter.

Mazey was among the last to find out. As he was bringing in a relief pitcher against the Cowboys, the coach noticed cheering from the stands past the first-base line.

“Who is the world is that up there?” Mazey recalled asking one of his assistant coaches. “It’s kind of unusual to have a cheering section in Stillwater, Oklahoma. And they said, ‘That’s the Iowa State softball team.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s pretty cool.’”

One of West Virginia’s players even tossed a baseball into the stands to his new friends and Mazey thanked the Cyclones after the game on Twitter: “You had our guys fired up to win!”

That’s not all.

Iowa State, which has struggled to a 16-25 record this season, then went out Sunday and beat third-ranked Oklahoma State 3-2 in 11 innings. Nelson tweeted a video of Iowa State players singing West Virginia’s unofficial anthem “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on the team bus.

“This crossover has been one of the craziest things our team has experienced!” Nelson tweeted. “Thanks for the love West Virginia. We couldn’t have done it without all of your support.”

West Virginia dropped softball for financial reasons in 1981; Kansas State and TCU are the other Big 12 teams without softball. Iowa State is the only Big 12 school that doesn’t offer baseball, which was nixed as a varsity sport in 2001 due to budget cuts.

Iowa State players are already looking for more opportunities to see West Virginia in action, Cyclones coach Jamie Pinkerton said. While their respective schedules won’t put them in the same state at the same time the rest of this season, there’s always 2024.

“Our women have already checked to see if our schedules cross,” Pinkerton said. “Rest assured, I would imagine when the baseball schedule comes out next year, that will be one of the first things our team looks at. It’s definitely got an interest.”

He won’t count out the possibility that one of the schools 860 miles (1,384 kilometers) apart could play close to the other’s home turf.

“The thought has crossed my mind,” Pinkerton said. ”It’d be kind of cool to be able to get in the area and see some West Virginia fans show up for us.”

Iowa State has had some softball success in recent years in a league that has seen Oklahoma win four of the last six softball national championships. In 2021, the Cyclones went 34-23 and qualified for an NCAA regional.

In 10 years under Mazey, West Virginia has five 30-win seasons, two NCAA regional appearances and could add to those totals with a 26-11 record so far this year.

And maybe bring some newfound friends along for the ride.