By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
The premier series of the season in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — at least on paper — will take place before spring even starts.
Concord will host Seton Hill this weekend in a battle of preseason picks to win their respective divisions. The teams will play a seven-inning doubleheader starting at noon Saturday, and the finale will be a single nine-inning game, also at noon, at Concord’s Anderson Field.
“It’s good to see where you are early,” Mountain Lions coach Andrew Wright said.
The Lions are 5-8 after getting swept last weekend at Shippensburg. No shame there — the Raiders are the No. 1 team in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region and No. 20 in the nation.
In the Griffins, Concord will face perennially one of the top teams in the conference. Seton Hill, the 2010 league champion, has appeared in three straight Atlantic Region tournaments.
“I know they can pitch,” Wright said. “That’s for sure.”
Seton Hill returns 2012 WVIAC Pitcher of the Year Alex Haines. The junior left-hander has not been involved in a decision and has a 4.22 earned run average in two starts thus far, a year after he went 7-2 with a 4.24 ERA and 108 strikeouts and just 38 walks in 70 innings.
But the Griffins, who were 3-3 going into today’s doubleheader with Clarion, are about more than just arms. They are batting .294 as a team, averaging 5.5 runs per game early in the season.
“They are the definition of a good baseball team,” Wright said. “They pitch well and they do enough offensively to beat you. The way to defense that is to pitch well on your end and do some things offensively.”
Concord is getting plenty of both.
The offense is led by Josh Wenger (.433, 12 runs batted in) and Bret Blevins (.417, 15 runs scored). First baseman Joey Miller is hitting .314 and leads the team with four home runs and 20 RBIs.
Miller is in his first season with the Mountain Lions after transferring from Frederick (Md.) Community College.
“He has been a nice addition to the middle of our order,” Wright said. “It’s nice to have that kind of presence in your lineup. And of course Bret Blevins is playing like he is capable.”
Junior Ryan Weatherholtz (1-1, 5.28) and Tyler Coyle (1-1, 6.97) have bolstered the rotation to this point. Coyle will get the nod in the second game. The Game 1 starter will be Drew Spear (0-2, 8.24), while junior Tyler Zimm (1-1, 6.48), an Oak Hill graduate, will start the third game.
Wright said the most noticeable improvement is in the bullpen. Tim Leather is 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA in six relief appearances. Will Zuspan, a junior out of Wahama who made a name for himself when Concord rolled to the 2011 tournament championship, has a 2.08 ERA in five appearances.
“We are going to be able to hold more leads than we have in the past,” Wright said, adding that Oak Hill alumnus Dustin Nuckels “will be a big-time guy for us out of the bullpen.”
— E-mail: gfauber