The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

July 16, 2014

Adjustments, perseverance aid Miners

W. Va. now fifth in the Prospect League in hitting

BECKLEY — Ask Steve Crosier what is the biggest reason for the West Virginia Miners’ offensive turnaround, and he’ll tell you it’s been all about adjustment.

“When these guys come from college, they use a metal bat,” the Miners hitting coach said. “All the pitchers are usually 1s, 2s or 3s at their schools, so nothing’s really changing for them. These guys get a lesser weapon in wood.

“Doug (Epling, team owner) buys good wood, but metal is better than wood no matter how you slice it.”

At the start of the season, it was sometimes painful to watch the Miners try to hit a baseball. Except for Paul Trenhaile, who hit safely in nine of his first 10 games, or Ryan Perkins, who is third in Prospect League with a .331 average, most of the players seemed to struggle out of the gate.

Zach Woolcock, one of four players back from last year’s Prospect League championship team, was hitless in his first 10 at-bats. Taylor Kellner started 2-for-19. Rob Youngblood didn’t break .100 until his 17th game.

The individual struggles were reflected in the team numbers. In mid-June, West Virginia was last in the league in hitting, well below .200.

That, however, has changed in a big way. The Miners are showing much more life at the plate and were batting .243, fifth in the 11-team league, going into Wednesday’s game at Richmond.

“So,” Crosier said, “there was an adjustment period.”

The key to that adjustment has been attitude. Through the struggles, no one was moping or hanging his head. Each player worked to get used to wood bats, and the perseverance has paid off.

“Of all the summers I have worked in wooden bat college leagues, these guys have probably adjusted the best,” Crosier said. “They have been very coachable. We talked a lot about swinging at good pitches. Not trying to do too much with the ball. Learning how to bunt, which I don’t think college (teams) teach a whole lot anymore. Hitting line drives and ground balls — things of that nature.

“Then you build off that ... Now you’re starting to see some balls hit in the gap or some hard outs in our games.”

Slowly but surely, the individual performances have improved, some more dramatically than others.

Woolcock is all the way up to .263 and has driven in 21 runs. The cleanup hitter had a two-homer game against Butler on June 22.

Kellner did have an 0-for-9 stretch Sunday and Monday, but still is hitting .231 after his 3-for-3 night in Tuesday’s 7-5 win over the BlueSox.

It’s really big,” Kellner said. “We’re winding down to the end of the season ... so everybody hitting the ball well is only going to make things better for us.”

Youngblood, who redshirted this spring at Georgia and will transfer to USC Aiken this fall, had a two-hit night Tuesday and has seen his average climb from .106 to .148 in three weeks.

Crosier praised the entire lineup individually, but perhaps Trenhaile has been the most impressive because his adversity came after he had tasted success. The first baseman was hitting .353 in his first 10 games, but then endured a seven-game hitless streak, a stretch that lasted 21 at-bats.

He finally broke out of the funk and is now hitting .279 with a team-high 24 RBIs.

“These guys have been a pleasure to work with,” Crosier said. “They are blue collar guys. It’s a fight every night.”

Miners manager Tim Epling is always quick to praise all his assistants, and he definitely appreciates having Crosier back after he spent the 2013 season with the professional rookie-level Princeton Rays.

“We have coaches meetings and we talk about what I feel I would like for our hitters to do,” Epling said. “He puts his input into that, and then he puts the situational stuff (together). And he stays on (the players). He’s a workaholic, and I give him all the credit for everything from our hitting standpoint. Steve’s done a great job for me.”

Through Crosier’s work — and the players’ — the Miners are now a serious offensive threat.

“It’s kind of funny because at the beginning of the year I think we were more pitching-oriented,” Crosier said. “And the one constant has been our defense. Our defense has been great. But as far as our hitting, I told Tim I think we can score four to six runs fairly consistently.”

For a team that used to struggle to average three, that’s saying something.

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

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