By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
If you build it, they will come.
Often. Like every day.
Starting Friday, the friendly confines of Linda K. Epling Stadium will be put to the test. There will be games at the three-year-old venue every day through the end of the West Virginia Miners’ season in August.
From middle school to college, it shapes up to be a busy six months.
“From listening to people that have been coming through the gates, I can honestly say this stadium has brought different communities together from the southern part of West Virginia,” said Tim Epling, manager of the West Virginia Miners and son of stadium owners Kay and Doug Epling.
It all starts this Friday with a high school scrimmage game between Chapmanville and Narrows, Va., that will begin at 5 p.m.
The following day, four scimmage games will be played: Richlands, Va., vs. Miller (Va.) High School, 10 a.m.; Independence vs. Scott, noon; Nitro vs. Miller, 2 p.m.; and Liberty vs. Fayetteville, 4 p.m.
There will be several regular season games played throughout the season, including the Cabell Midland Wood Bat Tournament April 19-20, and the Independence softball team also has some dates secured.
On Sunday, the Upper Deck Middle School Baseball League will kick off its fourth season. The league will consist of 11 area schools, including 2012 champion Eastern Greenbrier. The others are Beckley-Stratton, Park, Shady Spring, Independence, Trap Hill, Summers County, Summersville, Collins, Greater Beckley Christian and Fayetteville.
Fayetteville is a first-time entrant.
“What I am most proud of about the league is that kids are better prepared for high school (baseball),” said Epling, who founded the league in 2010. “And coach (Dan) Poland (of Fayetteville’s high school team) has thanked me about a hundred times. He is excited to have the kids in the program.”
New to this year’s league is a junior JV division made up of fifth- and sixth-graders. There are four teams in that division: Beckley-Stratton, Shady Spring, Eastern Greenbrier and Summersville.
Of course, the stadium will have a heavy college baseball flavor, highlighted by an anticipated meeting between West Virginia and Marshall on Tuesday, May 14. First pitch will be 7 p.m.
Marshall will have its usual presence, starting with a weekend series with former Mid-American Conference foe Central Michigan March 15-17.
After the series finale on March 17, WVU Tech will take on Ohio University-Chillicothe.
Marshall will also host rival Ohio April 24 and Morehead State April 30.
The Herd will host a Conference USA series in Beckley for the first time when East Carolina visits the weekend of May 10-12.
Before taking on Marshall in May, WVU will make its stadium debut April 26-28 when it hosts Kansas in a Big 12 Conference series. Beckley native David Reed took over as Kansas’ director of compliance in December.
Concord, picked in the preseason to win the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s North Division, will take on Fairmont State April 25 in a doubleheader. Those games will have a definite local feel — on Concord’s roster are Oak Hill alumni Tyler Zimm and Dustin Nuckels, and Princeton’s Austin Southcott, while Fairmont State has Shady Spring graduates Tyler Lucas and Corey Lilly, and Greenbrier West’s Chase Fitzwater.
That meeting will serve as a precursor to the WVIAC Tournament, scheduled to be played at Epling Stadium May 1-5. The final conference champion of any sport will be crowned before the league disbands and members officially form the Mountain East Conference for the 2013-14 seasons.
Then, of course, the Miners will start their season Tuesday, May 28, against the Slippery Rock Sliders. Their scheduled season finale will be Sunday, Aug. 4, against the Richmond RiverRats. The league playoffs will end a week later.
— E-mail: gfauber