By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
The quest to become the last West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference baseball champion in history begins today at Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium.
South Division runner-up Concord (32-18, 26-9) will start the tournament at 9:30 a.m. against North No. 3 West Liberty (21-24, 18-15).
Three more first-round games are set for today: North No. 1 Seton Hill (37-13, 26-8) vs. South No. 4 Charleston (19-27, 15-19) at 12:30 p.m.; North No. 2 Shepherd (25-20, 15-10) vs. South No. 3 Davis & Elkins (26-18, 20-13) at 3:30 p.m.; and South No. 1 West Virginia State (27-17, 24-8) vs. North No. 4 Fairmont State (21-23, 17-15).
Four games will also be played on Thursday and Friday, with the championship being decided Saturday. The title game will start at either 1 or 4 p.m., depending on how many teams remain alive at the end of Friday’s schedule.
Tickets to the tournament are $5 each day.
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With the tournament being played in Beckley, this week will serve as a homecoming for some of the participating athletes. Players with local ties are:
n Concord. A pair of Oak Hill alumni now wear the maroon and white of Concord. Junior left-hander Tyler Zimm (2009 graduate) is 1-1 with a 9.75 earned run average in five appearances, four of them starts. He has battled injury since he was a freshman at California (Pa.) in 2010.
Zimm’s former Red Devil teammate, junior Dustin Nuckels (2010) has made nine appearances, all but one out of the bullpen. He is 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA. Nuckels had a successful tournament when the Mountain Lions won the title in 2011 at Epling Stadium.
Also, freshman Austin Southcott, a member of last year’s Princeton team that won the Class AAA state championship, is 1-0 with a 4.00 ERA in seven relief outings.
n Charleston. Alec Austin, a 2010 Greenbrier East graduate, is 3-5 with a 3.51 ERA for the Golden Eagles. His ERA actually has risen after three straight lackluster outings. He was tagged for six earned runs over three innings in a loss to Concord, four earned runs in seven innings in a game he won 8-4 over Bluefield State. He was charged with 11 runs against Ohio Valley, but only two of them were earned, in a 19-13 loss. Before that run, Austin was 2-3 with a 1.29 ERA.
n Fairmont. Shady Spring alumni Corey Lilly (2011) and Tyler Lucas (2009) now call Marion County home from August to May. Lilly is 4-3 with a 5.60 ERA. Lucas has started 28 of 29 games he has played at shortstop and is batting .256 with 14 runs batted in.
The two helped the Falcons sweep a doubleheader from Concord April 23 at Epling Stadium.
Chase Fitzwater, a 2011 Greenbrier West graduate, has played in four games, scoring two runs and walking in his only plate appearance. He also stole a base.
n West Virginia St. From one legend to another, Jeremy Buchanan will be playing in the tournament at Epling Stadium for the second time. The 2009 Independence graduate played for Joe Goddard and now is under the tutelage of Yellowjackets icon Cal Bailey. Buchanan, a catcher, has played in seven games and is hitting .348 with one double and three RBIs.
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Naming the WVIAC Most Valuable Player should not be a tough Sell.
Seton Hill third baseman Nick Sell is at or near the top of nearly every offensive catgory. He leads the way in batting average (.471), on-base percentage (.556), hits (80) and walks (32), is second in slugging (.771), and runs (61), fourth in home runs (11) and fifth in RBIs (49).
— E-mail: gfauber