The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

August 14, 2013

Miners coaches worked their magic

— A few weeks ago, when the West Virginia Miners were losing what seemed to be a player every day, I joked to manager Tim Epling to just “work your magic.”

His response? “Remember what happened to Houdini?”

Famed escape artist Harry Houdini nearly met his demise during a stunt in Niagara Falls. The Miners certainly seemed close to the precipice in the last week of the Prospect League regular season, losing four straight games while trying to close out the race in the East Division.

West Virginia eventually won the division, needing a 4-2 win over Chillicothe in 14 innings to clinch it. And on the way to Tuesday’s 4-3, 11-inning win over the Quincy Gems that secured a second straight league championship, the Miners never lost again.

In spite of players leaving for myriad reasons, and in spite of two pitchers telling Epling their college coaches had shut them down — only to find out the college coaches made no such call — the Miners escaped their personal Niagara Falls.

Of West Virginia’s first four seasons as a program, this was easily the coaching staff’s best job. It starts with Epling, but his assistants also deserve credit for withstanding the adversity that seemed to plague the team all summer, even in the face of a 10-game winning streak at midseason that turned a 12-12 start into what proved to be a runaway.

There’s first base coach Danny Flores, whose behind-the-scenes work from January to December is grossly underappreciated.

There’s dugout coach Joe Goddard, who is, well, Joe Goddard. His experience as a coach — he spent 36 years as the head coach at Independence High School — and as a former Major League player has been invaluable to the players and to Epling. He filled in for Epling when the manager was unable to make road trips because of family concerns.

And there was hitting coach Jimmy Mullins, who left the team July 28 to become the new head coach at Glenville State. He has extensive background in what is now the Mountain East Conference and was able to connect with the young players.

Of course, the players who stuck it out through the long season and were fortunate to be part of Tuesday’s dramatic win are to be congratulated. A 60-game season during summer league, with exhaustive travel for all, is a grind, especially when you consider these guys have been playing baseball since their colleges started practice in January. They could have quit — especially after so many did — but chose to honor their commitments and, as a reward to themselves and southern West Virginia, got to win a championship on the turf of Linda K. Epling Stadium.

There were so many memories along the way.

Who could ever forget Nick Paxton’s grand slam — a stadium first — on Fireworks Night? Or shortstop Evan Potter, who wowed everyone with his Ozzie Smith-like glove on almost a nightly basis? He’ll also go down in history for hitting the first-ever inside-the-park home run at the stadium.

The Dickey’s BBQ promotion, in which everyone in the stands received a free barbecue sandwich if the Miners pitcher struck out the third batter for the third out of the third inning, was a lot of fun and a huge success. Many sandwiches were given out, including in the championship game courtesy of Ryan Perez’s whiff of Mike Wilson.

Then, of course, there was Pat Kregeloh’s two-run homer to beat Chillicothe in the division clincher, and Griffin Moore’s game-winner to win the league championship.

These guys might not be Houdini, but it certainly was a magical season.

— E-mail: gfauber

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