The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

June 25, 2014

What a difference a year can make? Not much

Miners are getting beat at their own game

BECKLEY — The West Virginia Miners are 12-12, in third place in the Prospect League’s East Division, about to start a home series. Chillicothe leads the division, with Butler a close second.

Sound familiar? It should. Exactly one year ago today, that was precisely the situation the Miners were in.

Same record. Same order in the standings, although the BlueSox and Miners trailed the Paints by a slightly different margin.

West Virginia manager Tim Epling was shocked to hear the eerie similarities. The way this season has gone, he’s just happy to still be in the conversation.

The offense was one of the things Epling was frustrated with 365 days ago. It’s the same this year, only more so. Going into Tuesday’s off day, the Miners were last in the league with a .207 average.

“The only difference,” Epling said, “is we don’t have that guy or couple of guys who have the opportunity to hit the ball out of the park.”

David Martinelli’s opposite-field shot to left against West-leading Terre Haute on June 14 is the only home run the Miners have this summer.

No, Epling says, it’s not all about the long ball. But some extra-base hits sure would be nice. Of the Miners’ league-low 152 hits, only 24 have not been singles.

Another double here or a triple there would drive up the 3.1 run-per-game average — also lowest in the league.

“Not saying (the lack of home runs) is a bad thing, but it just makes a difference when you have that type of threat,” Epling said. “I would like to see our doubles go up. That’s the reason we get five runs on five hits. A couple of walks and a double, that’s how you score a couple of runs (at a time). I think that would be a difference maker.”

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Meanwhile, the Miners pitching is just as strong as as ever.

West Virginia is third in the league with a 2.81 earned run average. Opponents are hitting just .197 off them.

Chase Boster, a right-hander from Marshall, is 2-2 with a 0.52 ERA, third in the league and just ahead of teammate Cody Smith’s 0.84 (2-0).

The Miners’ walks total of 87 is slightly higher than Epling would like.

“It’s all about walks and errors, in my opinion,” he said. “When you eliminate that, it makes teams earn everything they get. ... We stress to the pitchers to concentrate on one pitch at a time, which is harder than it sounds. But we have been successful doing it.”

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Pitching and defense have been the hallmarks of the Miners franchise, leading to the last two league championships. But small ball and effective baserunning have also been key, and in that regard, Epling says his team is getting beat at its own game.

“I think so,” he said. “Coach (Joe) Goddard and I were talking about it. We’re seeing teams bunt more and trying to run more than what they had done in the past. But I think this is what separates us: We work hard on it every day. I don’t know that other teams work as hard as we do on it, every day, for an hour and 15 minutes.

“We want the kids to understand who they are as players and not try to do too much. My goal is to stay out of double plays and keep guys on second and third with less than two out. If you do that, then odds are you are going to score some runs.”

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The most important difference between this summer and last is that the season is broken into halves. With the half set to end within a week for East teams, it will be hard for the Miners to clinch an early playoff spot.

However, if the Miners continue to improve and win the second half, they could be playing their best in time for the postseason.

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The Prospect League announced Tuesday that Chillicothe’s Greg Cypret and Terre Haute’s Bobby Segal will managed the PL All-Star game set for July 8 in Terre Haute.

All-stars will be announced Monday.

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The Miners will begin a three-game series with Richmond at 7:05 p.m. today. It will be Jersey Day presented by First Peoples Bank. Any fan wearing a jersey will get in for $2.

Quinton Yocom (0-2, 5.26) will start for the Miners. The RiverRats are hitting .299 in their last seven games.

— E-mail: gfauber@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber.

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