By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Two weeks ago, West Virginia Miners manager Tim Epling received a celebratory ice water dousing at the hands of his players. Someone then yelled, “First place, baby!”
Epling appreciated the enthusiasm, but would prefer to hold the bone-shivering celebration for when it counts.
That moment came Saturday, and in more than convincing fashion.
The Miners rolled up 22 hits and scored in every inning except the seventh of a 16-1 win over Richmond on Fan Appreciation Night at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
A crowd of 1,477 watched the Miners clinch the Prospect League East Division championship outright. The title already belonged to West Virginia because it owned the tiebreaker over Butler, but now no team can catch the Miners as the division wraps up its regular season today.
West Virginia’s recent four-game losing streak, which was busted with Friday’s 4-2 win in 14 innings over Chillicothe, was marked by the team’s struggles at the plate. The Miners hit .189 and only six of their 23 hits went for extra bases during the skid.
They almost eclipsed the hits total in one night against the RiverRats.
West Virginia (37-22) scored five runs in the second inning, three in the third and three more in the fourth off Richmond starter Patrick Van Daalwyk. Every player who went to the plate for the Miners got at least one hit, except for relief pitcher Jordan Pemble, who hit for himself in the eighth and lined out to center field.
“It’s coming at a good time,” said Epling, moments before taking the first of two dunks. “This was good for us, just to be able to sit back and relax. It just goes to show you the more relaxed you are, the better you play.”
There were several highlights from the outburst:
n Evan Potter hit the first inside-the-park home run in Miners history in the third. With Brandon Koch on first, Potter lined the first offering from Van Dallwyk into left field. Kyle Leslie and Jake Craft both dove for the ball but missed, and the ball bounced all the way to the wall. Potter easily rounded the bases and scored standing up.
n Zach Woolcock, who had been struggling at the plate since returning from a groin injury, was 3-for-6 with two doubles and four runs batted in.
n Relief pitcher James Woods hit for the first time this season and lined an opposite-field single to left in the eighth. He later scored his first run of the year and the last of the game for West Virginia.
n Kenny May, hitting .179 going into Friday, was 4-for-5 and scored three times. He is 5-for-12 over his last two games.
n Pat Kregeloh, who had a game-winning two-run homer Friday, blasted a three-run shot to left in the fourth. He now has seven home runs and a league-leading 40 RBIs.
Cameron Balough and Griffin Moore also had three hits each.
Koch (7-3) picked up the win after going five innings. He allowed four hits, struck out three and didn’t walk a batter.
Van Daalwyk (3-6) also went five innings but finished with a much different line. He surrendered 15 hits and 14 runs — nine of them earned — while striking out two and walking two.
Craft, who was injured on Potter’s home run but was OK, singled in Jacob Bosiokovic in the sixth for Richmond’s only run.
The Miners will close out the regular season at 5:05 p.m. today with the RiverRats.
“I’m happy for the guys right now,” said Epling, who continually held runners at third to keep from running up the score. “We’ve got another game (today) and then come out here and relax and be ready for Tuesday.”
The divisional playoffs begin Tuesday at either Butler or Chillicothe. Butler lost to Slippery Rock on Saturday while Chillicothe defeated Lorain County, so the BlueSox lead the Paints by a half game for second place.
If Butler wins today, it will clinch the final playoff spot. If Butler loses and Chillicothe wins, the Paints get the spot.
Friday’s game between Butler and Lorain County that was rained out in the third inning will not be made up, regardless of today’s outcomes.
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Tickets for games 2 and 3 can be purchased at the Miners box office during today’s game. They are also available by calling the Miners at 304-252-7233, or online at www.wvminersbaseball.com.
Prices are $8.50 for chairbacks and $6.50 for bleacher seats.