Two batters into the game, West Virginia Miners manager Tim Epling felt a mound conference was necessary.
“I saw right off the bat that they (Slippery Rock) were going to be an aggressive team and they were going to try to put pressure on us,” Epling said of his visit with opening night starter Kevin Johnstone.
Epling’s words did the trick.
Johnstone settled down after a 20-pitch first inning to throw seven innings of one-run ball in his Miners debut, an 8-1 win in front of 867 fans at Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium.
The right-hander from Case Western Reserve, a NCAA Division III school in Cleveland, scattered four hits and allowed one run for West Virginia (1-0), the reigning Prospect League champion. Nearly the entire roster is new — only pitcher Kolin Stanley returns — but, at least for one night, it appeared that Epling found a jewel in Johnstone.
“I thought it was pretty good,” said Johnstone, a 6-foot-2 Placentia, Calif., native. “I would have liked to put up a zero (shutout), but one run I’ll take any day.”
Johnstone finished with an even 100 pitches, but only 80 over his final six innings. He threw 64 pitches for strikes and left after the seventh with four strikeouts and two walks.
“Kevin did a great job,” Epling said. “He kept the ball around the plate like I thought he would. He didn’t walk a lot of guys. I think he handled the first game jitters very well.”
“I think it was just trying to find the zone,” Johnstone said. “(It was my) first time pitching off a turf mound, first time pitching in front of a lot of people. I think I just had to find the zone a little bit.”
After allowing a leadoff single to Lance Barkley, Johnstone fell behind 1-0 to Gentry Kinsella and Barkley stole second base. That prompted an early visit from Epling.
“That surprised me,” Johnstone admitted. “He was just telling me about my pauses. I paused not a very long time and (Barkley) ran on me. So he wanted me to mix that up. That was about it.”
“I said, ‘You’re going to have to listen to me.’ We’ve got some signals, some verbals, and I said, ‘You’re going to have to slidestep every once in a while,’” Epling said.
Johnstone went on to battle Kinsella, eventually with a strikeout looking. He dominated the rest of the way and didn’t give up a run until the seventh, when Trey Rogers doubled to lead off and eventually scored when Dan Hurliman hit into a double play.
By then, the Miners were already ahead 8-0.
Catcher Robert Tavone was 3-for-5 with a double and run batted in. Left fielder Dale Davis and center fielder Josh Merrigan both had two hits, as West Virginia finished with 11.
The Miners turned three double plays and did not commit an error, even with many players out of position.
“With a skeleton crew,” Epling said, smiling. “We went out and I told them, ‘None of you have done anything like this. It’s still 90 feet (between bases) and 60 feet, 6 inches (from the pitching rubber to the plate). There is a lot of foul territory. You’ve been playing this game your whole life. Go out there and have fun.’”
Concord junior and Oak Hill graduate Dustin Nuckels pitched the final two innings. He worked around leadoff walks in each and faced just seven batters. The Miners turned a double play in the ninth, and Nuckels struck out Matt Calhoun
Slippery Rock starter Ryan Ahrens took the loss. He was victimized by four errors — only one of the four runs he gave up was earned. He allowed five hits, struck out two and walked two.
The teams will play again tonight, with Carson-Newman right-hander Quinton Yocom starting for West Virginia against the Sliders’ David Wilson. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m.
— E-mail: gfauber
SR: 000 000 100 — 1 4 4
WV: 021 140 00x — 8 11 0
SR: Ryan Ahrens, Travis Clark (5), Alex Watson (5), Kevin Becker-Menditto (8) and Morgan McCasland, WV: Kevin Johnstone, Dustin Nuckels (8) and Robert Tavone Jr.. WP — Johnstone. LP — Ahrens. Hitting — SR: Lance Barkley 1-4, Trey Rogers 1-3 (R, 2B), Matthew Calhoun 1-4, Morgan McCasland 1-4, WV: Kenny May 1-4, Dale Davis 2-4 (RBI), Josh Merrigan 2-5 (R), Cameron Balough 1-4 (R), Robert Travone Jr. 3-5 (R, RBI, 2B), Vince Bartolone 1-4 (2 R, RBI), Phillip Mandt 0-1 (2 R), Andrew Fraziers 1-3 (R, RBI).
Records: West Virginia Miners (1-0), Slippery Rock (0-1).