By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
The celebration will have to wait.
With a chance to clinch a tie for the Prospect League East Division championship, the West Virginia Miners could not solve Butler’s pitching Sunday. Despite outhitting the BlueSox, the Miners lost 4-1 at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
West Virginia’s lead over Butler in the East slipped back to four with six games to play. The magic number to clinch remains at three.
The Miners (35-19) could have secured a tie for the division title with a win. That would have locked up the top seed for West Virginia, which won the season series with the BlueSox 7-5.
The Miners could do little against Butler starter G.J. Senchak. The left-hander from California (Pa.) allowed four hits but struck out five and walked one in evening his record at 3-3.
Miners starter Evin Einhardt unraveled in the fifth inning after having retired 10 consecutive batters.
After Ryan Wonders led off with a four-pitch walk, Einhardt fielded Josh Forbes’ sacrifice bunt and tried to force Wonders at second but his throw was late. Alex Jurich, the designated hitter one day after getting ejected as Butler’s catcher, singled to drive in Wonders for a 1-0 lead.
Forbes and Jurich moved up on Andrew Bonnette’s sac bunt before Cody Herald bounced one up the middle that looked like it would get into center field. But Miners shortstop Evan Potter got to the ball, spun and retired Herald at first.
Forbes scored on the play, and Jurich later scored on a wild pitch to give the BlueSox a 3-0 lead.
Einhardt (3-2) went 5 1-3 innings, striking out six and allowing just one hit. But he walked six and gave up three earned runs.
“I think Evin needed to throw his fastball more,” West Virginia manager Tim Epling said. “When you are struggling with your off speed (pitches), you need to just lock in on your fastball and trust it. But giving up that few (amount) of runs, even when you are not throwing your best, (is encouraging).”
The Miners loaded the bases with two out in the fourth off Senchak, but Cameron Balough struck out chasing a pitch low and away.
Dale Davis’ single to lead off the seventh chased Senchak, who threw only 80 pitches in six-plus. Davis stole second despite Butler reliever Tyler Swarmer’s pickoff attempt, then scored on a one-out double by Potter to make it a 3-1 game.
Butler (31-23) added an insurance run in the ninth. Bonnette singled off Miners reliever Kolin Stanley and scored from first on a double to the left field corner by Herald.
A potential big inning for West Virginia came in the eighth when Zach Woolcock hit a bloop single to right with one out. Pinch hitter Brandon Koch then hit a drive to right center, sending Woolcock to third. However, Woolcock tried to stretch it into a double and was thrown out easily for the second out.
Davis then grounded to third to end the inning.
Tyler Ferguson worked 2 2-3 innings for his fourth save. He struck out two and walked two while allowing three hits.
All three BlueSox pitchers were left-handers and gave the Miners problems.
“We’ve got to find a way to hit left-handers,” Epling said, “because we’re going to face a lot. If we are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, we’re going to face a lot of lefties.”
Chillicothe, which beat Richmond 9-3 Sunday, is five games behind West Virginia and trails Butler by one game for second place. The top two teams at the end of the regular season will meet in a best-of-three playoff starting Tuesday, Aug. 6.
The Miners are off today before starting a two-game series at Slippery Rock on Tuesday.
Notes: Will Blalock, who pitched for last year’s league championship team, threw out the first pitch. Receiving was current Miner Griffin Moore, Blalock’s teammate at Lipscomb University ... Catcher Tyler Wilkins’ single in the fifth was his first hit in his first 16 at-bats ... Ryan Perez will start for West Virginia Tuesday at Slippery Rock ... The Miners will host their first golf tournament today on the Cobb Course at The Resort at Glade Springs ... Miners hitting coach Jimmy Mullins coached his final game Saturday. He was recently named the head coach at Glenville State.
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