By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
As a reward for their hard work all summer, and to help break up the monotony of a 12-hour bus ride, the West Virginia Miners made a pit stop on their way to Quincy, Ill., Friday for Game 1 of the Prospect League Championship Series.
They stopped at Busch Stadium in St. Louis to watch the Cardinals take on their rival, the Chicago Cubs. They got to witness the Cubs win 3-0, their first shutout win in St. Louis since 1997.
The Miners know a thing or two about shutting an opponent out, with nowhere near 16 years between bagels.
Perhaps inspired by the Cubs’ performance — but more likely just doing what they’ve been doing all season — the Miners beat the Gems 1-0 Saturday night to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. Now, needing one more win to wrap up its second straight league title, West Virginia will host Quincy at 7:05 p.m. today at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
The stop at Busch Stadium seemed to serve its purpose.
“They loved it,” manager Tim Epling said late Saturday while on that same long bus ride, only this time headed for the friendlier confines of Beckley. “They were like kids in a candy store. It was a way for us to relax before we played the next day. We were all joking around. For the first time in about a week and a half, we have started to jell as a team.”
Second baseman Kenny May was especially appreciative. Growing up in nearby Fairview Heights, Ill., May is a lifelong fan of the Cardinals and probably knows his way around Busch Stadium better than he knows Beckley.
“I’ve been to a lot of Cardinals games,” said May, who lists his current favorite Cardinals as Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina. “I actually went to a couple of games before I reported here. But it was definitely nice to get to go.”
May is hitting just .202, but has contributed timely hits, including the game-tying single in the bottom of the 14th inning against Chillicothe on Aug. 2. The game was decided one pitch later on Pat Kregeloh’s two-run homer.
May is also part of a defense that has helped the pitching staff go from spectacular in the regular season to even better in the playoffs.
“We have to play good defense,” May said. “And the pitching has just been phenomenal. Two one-run games (1-0 wins over Chillicothe and Quincy), and the second game against Chillicothe was 3-0 but it was 1-0 until the eighth. Those are nailbiters, but they are fun.”
No calculator is needed to compute the Miners’ staff ERA since the playoffs started. They have not allowed a run in 27 innings in the postseason and have given up just nine hits.
“It was another great performance by our pitching and we played some pretty good defense, too,” Epling said.
Kevin Johnstone delivered his best outing of the summer, holding the Gems to four hits over seven innings. He did run into problems at times, but his defense did more than enough to bail him out, including turning three double plays.
The last came in the eighth inning, when Nick Roscetti reached on an error by Evan Potter to lead it off. But Steven Palleres lined out to May, who fired to first to double up Roscetti.
Jake Ivory then struck out to end the inning.
Johnstone needed just 87 pitches to get through seven innings. He finished with two strikeouts and two walks, all while battling a blister on one of his fingers.
“He was really good throwing his fastball,” Epling said. “He had good location. Sometimes when you have a blister your breaking ball isn’t effective. He really controlled his fastball.”
Rolando Celis worked the final two innings for the Miners and picked up the save. He allowed a two-out single to Ryan Light in the ninth, and Light stole second, but Matt Marek struck out to end it.
Celis struck out four and walked none.
“That was big time,” Epling said of Celis’ performance. “He was pounding the strike zone. He showed that they are going to have to earn their runs. We’re not giving them anything.”
Epling still is unsure who his starter will be for Game 2. He said it will be a gameday decision.
Quincy will go with ace right-hander Jake Powers (6-0, 2.23 earned run average).
With the series shifting to Beckley, the Miners have a chance not only to repeat, but also to win the championship in front of their home fans. They won last year’s title at Dubois County.
“That would be fun,” May said. “I have never won a championship. I’m sure it’s a great experience, and I’m sure it would be even better in front of your home fans.”
“We feed off of large crowds,” Epling said. “It was good to be able to go into a pressure situation and play well. They want to win it for the city of Beckley.
“I’m not taking anything for granted. Quincy is a good team and we still have a lot of work to do. But to be able to win (at home) would be something special.”
All tickets for tonight’s game are $5 and can be ordered by calling the Miners office at 304-252-7233, or online at www.wvminersbaseball.com. Fans ages 12 and under get in free.
It will be Pasquales/The Char Night. Fans can register for gift certificates from both restaurants to be given away every inning.
Game 3, if necessary, would also be in Beckley, at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday.
— E-mail: gfauber@