By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Tim Epling knows no one in the Prospect League is going to feel sorry for him. Such is the territory that is tread by a reigning champion that wins a title in just its third try.
Defense of the league championship begins tonight for the West Virginia Miners, who will host Slippery Rock at 7:05 p.m. Kevin Johnstone, a right-handed pitcher out of Case Western Reserve, will start for the Miners, who have a completely new roster.
West Virginia will go with a 14-player roster for basically the first week of the season. Many players still have not reported because their teams just finished conference tournament play or, in the case of Central Arkansas’ Zach Barr and Doug Votolato and San Diego State’s Evan Potter, have advanced to the NCAA tournament.
“Some things you can control and some things you can’t control,” said Epling, the West Virginia manager. “The players we have on the field have been working hard the last three or four days. They seem like a good bunch of guys and understand the concept of what we do. If we play good defense, then I like our chances.
“Other teams I’m sure are in the same boat, (although) they probably have more players who have been with them in the past and probably have more of their players than we do. We will still put nine out there and see what happens. That’s the message we have tried to deliver to the team, to just go out and have fun.”
Johnstone last pitched May 17 for Case Western Reserve in the NCAA Division III Midwest Region tournament. The sophomore went eight innings, allowing three runs and six hits with three walks and four strikeouts as the Spartans upset St. Thomas (Minn.), the No. 2 team in the country, 7-3.
On the season, Johnstone was 4-3 with a 3.18 earned run average in 12 appearances. He had 48 strikeouts and 23 walks in 65 innings and opponents hit .228 against him.
“We watched him throw some bullpens (sessions) and he seems to have control of the strike zone and a good breaking pitch,” Epling said of the Placentia, Calif., native. “We need to get a good five, six or seven innings out of him, because our pitching staff will be depleted.”
Epling will have only six pitchers at his disposal for the first six games. Carson-Newman right-hander Quinton Yocom will start Wednesday night against Slippery Rock. The Miners will then visit Butler on Thursday and Friday before returning home Saturday and Sunday for games against Lorain County.
“It is important that we get quality starts right off the bat,” Epling said.
As has become tradition, there will be a postgame fireworks show tonight. It will also be Coca-Cola Night, with plenty of prizes and giveaways, and Baseball Bingo will be played throughout the night.
The game will be broadcast on 93.5 FM/1070 AM The Ark, with Aaron Payne on the call.
— E-mail: gfauber@