By Cam Huffman
If only earned runs counted, the West Virginia Miners and the Slippery Rock Sliders may still be playing at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
But it was the two unearned tallies that decided the outcome of Wednesday night’s Prospect League game.
The Miners (7-7) made two costly errors as a three-game winning streak came to an end with a 5-3 loss.
“They scored two runs on two errors, and they were simple plays,” said Miners head coach Tim Epling. “If they happen again, we probably get them out. But it’s just one of those things that happens. If you take that away, we had a chance to win the game.”
The first big miscue came in the top of the second inning when the Sliders (6-8) — already holding a 1-0 lead on a Mike Andries RBI single in the first — had shortstop Tom Crimi put down a squeeze bunt with one out and runners at second and third.
Miners starting pitcher Quinton Yocom — who fell to 1-2 with the loss — picked up the bunt and had an easy play at the plate, but the throw sailed wide of catcher Robert Tavone, allowing a run to score.
Some significant contact between Tavone and Keegan Ghidotti, who scored the run after leading off the inning with a single, led to some words, and the benches cleared before order was restored.
Slippery Rock then scored another run on a Aaron Lindgren RBI groundout, which would have ended the inning had the play at the plate been made. The Sliders went ahead 3-0 and never looked back.
“We were just kind of flat at the beginning of the game, I thought,” said Epling. “Sometimes that happens. I’m still trying to read them, and they’re trying to read me too.”
West Virginia tried to chip away, but the Sliders always seemed to have an answer.
The Miners finally broke through with a run in the bottom of the fourth when Zach Woolcock grounded out to score Kenny May, who led off the inning with a double.
Slippery Rock, though, got the run back in the next half-inning, scoring on an RBI groundout that closed the book on Yocom. The Miner starter left after allowing four runs, three earned, on six hits and a walk in 4 1/3 innings.
Rolando Celis came on in relief for the Miners and helped keep his team in the game, pitching 2 2/3 innings and holding the visitors scoreless on just two hits.
That allowed West Virginia to close the gap even further when it scored a pair of runs off of reliever Alex Watson, who replaced Zach Strecker. The Sliders’ starter, a University of Kentucky product, gave up only one earned run on four hits in six innings pitched to improve to 1-0 on the season.
Watson, though, wasn’t nearly as effective. After a scoreless seventh inning, he started the eighth with back-to-back walks.
Prospect League Pitcher of the Week Kevin Becker-Menditto came on to try to close the door, but after striking out Brandon Koch, he gave up an RBI single off the bat of Prospect League Hitter of the Week Pat Kregeloh to make the score 4-2.
The Miners cut it to one with a Woolcock RBI groundout, but with the tying run in scoring position, Becker-Menditto struck out Tavone to end the inning.
Another Miner error in the top of the ninth gave Slippery Rock some breathing room.
With a runner at first and one out, Connor McCallum grouned to Oak Hill native Dustin Nuckels, who was on in relief. The Concord pitcher fielded the grounder, but his throw to first sailed wide of the bag and into the outfield.
That put Silders on second and third, and Crimi drove in his team’s fifth run with a sacrifice fly.
West Virginia threatened, getting a runner to second with two outs, but Becker-Menditto got Griffin Moore to ground out to first to end the game and pick up his third save of the season.
“I thought there were a couple of times that we were a little anxious,” said Epling. “But sometimes hitters just want to hit the ball to provide something positive. We weren’t hitting well the whole game.”
The Miners will be back in action tonight, hosting Chillicothe at 7:05 p.m. The Paints (8-6) are one game ahead of West Virginia for first place in the Prospect League East Division.
“I really don’t know what I have right now,” said Epling. “I’m still trying to learn. I want to see what they do, because I know Chillicothe will come in here ready to play.”
Tonight’s game will be Miners Appreciation and Friends of Coal Night at the ballpark, as miners, currently working or retired, will be admitted free to watch the Miners and the Paints by presenting their certification.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
Slippery Rock Sliders 5, West Virginia Miners 3
SR: 120 010 001 — 5 9 0
WV: 000 100 020 — 3 6 2
SR: Zach Strecker, Alex Watson (7), Kevin Becker-Menditto (8) and Mike Andries, WV: Quinton Yocum, Rolando Celis (5), Dustin Nuckles (8) and Robert Tavone Jr. WP — Zach Strecker. LP — Quinton Yocum. S — Kevin Becker-Menditto Hitting — SR: Aaron Lindgren 1-3 (R, RBI), Storm Wilson 1-5, Matthew Calhoun 1-3 (RBI), Mike Andries 1-4 (RBI), Hunter King 1-3 (2 R), Keegan Ghidotti 2-3 (R), Gentry Kinsella 2-2, Tom Crimi 0-2 (R, 2 RBI), WV: Kaeo Aliviado 1-3 (R), Pat Kregeloh 1-4 (RBI), Zach Woolcock 0-3 (2 RBI), Cameron Balough 2-2, Kenny May 1-2 (R, 2B), Vince Bartalone 1-1.