South Dade product Alek Manoah felt right at home on his official visit to West Virginia.
Instead of going to one of the town’s best restaurants for dinner on the first day like many schools do with their recruits, head coach Randy Mazey invited Manoah over to his house to meet with the coaching staff and have a home-cooked meal.
Steak, corn on the cob, and cooked onions were on the menu.
Mazey showed Manoah his trophy room and the picturesque view from his backyard to see Morgantown and the stadium.
“Everything was just perfect,” Manoah said.
It was different than his other visits to Auburn and Mississippi State.
“Usually they take you to a big steakhouse to try to be flashy, but when I came here we had dinner at his house with the entire coaching staff, their wives and kids,” Manoah said. “It was just a real family-based culture and that’s basically what I wanted to be a part of. I didn’t want to be 17 hours away and feel like I wasn’t home. The past three years this has been a home away from home and it truly feels like that.”
Manoah has turned in an impressive junior campaign for the Mountaineers leading the Big 12 Conference in ERA (1.76) and strikeouts (103). There have been bout 20 MLB scouts who have flocked to each of his games with 60 expected to be in attendance on Friday when Manoah faces TCU ace Nick Lodolo in a battle of potential first-round draft picks.
No. 20 West Virginia (27-15, 10-8 Big 12) is tied for third in the conference, trailing leader Baylor by 2 ½ games with six left to play.
“The excitement level is pretty good right now,” Manoah said. “Everybody is feeling pretty good, but at the same time we can smell the blood in the water. We know we have a few good series ahead of us and we know that as a team we can take this school and this program to places its never been.”
West Virginia has never won a Big 12 title, regular season or tournament, has only one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 22 years—Manoah’s freshman year, and has not won a regional. Manoah is hoping to be a part of history this year.
“Being a part of it is extremely huge,” he said. “When I was in high school I was able to win South Dade’s first ever state title as a sophomore and be a big part of that team so I’m using that same experience and playoff experience, and my experience from my freshman year in the regional. It is really exciting as well going forward in the playoff run that we’re looking forward to make.”
Manoah graduated from South Dade in 2016 and was on the 2014 title team. He credits the program for helping him prepare for the college level.
“Coach (Fred) Burnside gave me an opportunity as a sophomore to start at first base and play for three years and be able to play with my brother (Erik) and my draft class Danny Vaughn, Sergio Lopez, Gaby Cruz who are all still playing at the college level,” Manoah said. “There was always a sense of competitiveness in our locker room and coach Burnside held us to a high standard. The practices and stuff really prepared me for when I got here. I don’t really think I missed a beat the moment I got here. I was already used to competitive play and it prepared me a lot.”
Manoah, who is 6-2 on the season, has been on a terror of late allowing one run over his last four starts including consecutive shutouts against Texas Tech and Kansas.
“My mentality hasn’t been what could be in the next few weeks,” Manoah said. “It’s just taking one inning at a time, one pitch at a time, one batter at a time. I think it has helped me put a lot of good innings together. Not getting result-oriented, just try to throw good pitches over the plate, really attack hitters and get three outs. Once I get those three outs, let’s get the next three outs. I think doing that every inning with my mentality and competitiveness and obviously the talent level of my pitches, I think that’s what’s helped me do really good over this stretch.”
Manoah features a mid-90s fastball, both a four-seamer and two-seamer, and credits improving his slider and change-up to his success in addition to taking a more serious approach to conditioning, eating right, and sleeping better.
“It’s all been taken a lot more seriously and building a good routine to feel good every seven days to be able to give my team a chance to win is something that has evolved over the last three years,” Manoah said.
The 2019 MLB Draft will be held on June 3-5 with Manoah likely to be a high pick, but he remains focused on helping lead West Virginia to a strong finish.
“I saw where the program had started when coach Mazey got here and saw where it had been the last four years and the increase they had made,” Manoah said. “I just believed I could be a huge part of making it an even bigger increase when I got here.”