By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
There was already a fireworks extravaganza planned for after the game. Nick Paxton’s blast was just a preview.
Paxton launched a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning to help the West Virginia Miners break open a three-run game in a 12-5 win over Slippery Rock in front of a raucous crowd at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
A season-high 2,471 fans packed the stadium on a night chock full of promotions, including a postgame fireworks show that was originally canceled by weather on July 3. The fans witnessed the Miners run their winning streak to three games and extend their division lead — and saw Paxton make history.
The Miners (27-15) scored seven unearned runs off the Sliders, who committed four errors. All four runs that scored on Paxton’s first home run of the summer were unearned.
With one out, Pat Kregeloh struck out on a check swing but the ball got away from Slippery Rock catcher Dan Palazzo. He retrieved the wild pitch and threw to first baseman Joel Klock, who dropped the ball for an error.
Kregeloh went to third on a single by Kaeo Aliviado, who later stole second before Cameron Balough walked.
One out later, Paxton drove a 1-1 pitch over the left field wall for a grand slam — the first ever at the stadium.
“He really has good power,” Miners manager Tim Epling said of Paxton, who hit just one homer in 58 games for Liberty University in the spring. “He just mashed up on the ball, got the bat head out. He’s hit some danggone pitches hard this year. He just got that one up, and that was good. The pitcher didn’t make a mistake, (Paxton) just mashed up on it.”
West Virginia came back from a 3-0 deficit. The Sliders got to starting pitcher Evin Einhardt early — Mike Aviles’ two-out single in the first scored Connor McCallum for the first earned run allowed by Einhardt this season.
Palazzo scored on a wild pitch and Dan Hurliman’s RBI single drove in Grant Zawadzki to extend the lead in the second.
But Einhardt settled down from there. He allowed only three hits and no runs over the next four innings. The Sliders added a run in the seventh, but a double play got Einhardt (1-1) out of the inning.
The right-hander finished with four runs, three strikeouts and three walks over seven innings.
The Miners’ comeback began in the third.
Down 3-1, Doug Votolato led off with a double to the left field corner and scored on Kregeloh’s double to right center. After Aliviado singled, Balough reached on an error and Kregeloh scored to tie the game.
Two batters later, Aliviado scored on a sacrifice fly by Paxton, giving the Miners a 4-3 lead.
Votolato hit a solo homer to right to lead off the fourth. Kregeloh, who singled after Votolato’s homer, later scored on Kenny May’s groundout to make it 6-3.
Epling was happy that his team took advantage of its opportunities.
“That makes a big difference, teams making mistakes and us capitalizing, which we hadn’t been doing this year,” he said. “Every game has its mistakes, every game is not perfect, and in those times it’s important that you get those runs. ... We’ve always let momentum stop, and tonight we didn’t.”
The Miners lead Chillicothe and Butler each by three games in the Prospect League East Division. Butler beat Chillicothe 6-5 in 14 innings Saturday.
West Virginia will start a two-game series at Butler at 6:35 p.m. today. Rolando Celis will start for the Miners against Butler’s Jon Anderson.
All league teams will be off Tuesday, with the all-star game set for Wednesday at Butler’s Pullman Park.
— E-mail: gfauber