By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Kolin Stanley delivered the last pitch of the 2012 season for the West Virginia Miners, a strikeout to cap off a perfect ninth inning and sew up the team’s first Prospect League championship.
It was a special season — the Miners’ first championship in three years of existence. But when the 2013 season started, none of the players from that historic group was on the roster.
Gone was league batting champion Clayton Prestridge. No-hit strikeout king Sam Lewis was off to bigger things, building his pro career in the Kansas City Royals organization. Speedy center fielder Luke Meeteer did not come back, and neither did equally fast, versatile infielder Bradley Strong.
When the roster was released in late winter, the only player to previously wear Miner green and gold was Stanley.
But even his return took a while to materialize.
Stanley, a rising junior at Marshall, had to delay his return to Beckley because of tendonitis in the back of his pitching elbow. It was an injury he felt throughout the spring but pitched in spite of.
“I missed a couple weeks in the college season,” he said. “I threw the season and then ended up taking seven weeks off for rehab after that just so I would be ready and healthy and 100 percent to come down here.
“I had to (play) through it, so that’s what I did. When the summer came, it made sense to take time off.”
Stanley’s numbers with the Thundering Herd were pedestrian — 1-1 record, 5.66 earned run average in 22 appearances. Opponents hit an alarming .341 against him.
Things have picked up since he returned to the Miners.
Stanley has made four relief appearances since his debut July 12 against Slippery Rock. He has three saves and has allowed one hit and no runs over four innings. He has seven strikeouts to just one walk.
“I’ve felt pretty good commanding the zone,” Stanley said Sunday before West Virginia’s 10-0 win over Lorain County. “My slider has really been helping me a lot. I’m just trying to get ahead of guys early and trust my defense behind me.”
Miners manager Tim Epling is happy to have Stanley back, saying that the right-hander always has a plan when he takes the mound.
“Kolin is Kolin. I’ve known Kolin for two or three years now and I know what he can do,” Epling said. “He goes in there with the mindset — he acts like a pitcher that throws 100 miles an hour. He really understands what he wants to do.
“We have good communication between us. We know each other. He’s a perfect guy for those types of situations.”
Stanley returned at a good time. The Miners are easily the hottest team in the league.
The Miners were 12-12 and in third place in the East Division on June 24, but have since won 20 of their last 24 games — including the last five in a row — and are in first place, five games ahead of Butler and six ahead of Chillicothe.
Much of that can be attributed to the pitching staff.
West Virginia, which starts a two-game series at Richmond at 7:05 p.m. today, has pitched three consecutive shutouts and has not allowed a run in 28 consecutive innings. The Miners top the league in shutouts with nine, ERA (2.65), complete games (5) and strikeouts (366).
“We’re playing really well right now,” Stanley said. “I think we’re finally becoming an individual team in knowing who we are. We’re starting to hit the ball and we’re pitching real well. I think we’re moving in the right direction and we’ll just keep it going from here.”
The chance to win another championship is definitely something that drives Stanley.
“It was unreal. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had,” he said of the 2012 title. “I hope to do that again this year.
“Clayton (the catcher) ran out and we had a big dogpile and everything, so that was really cool.”
Stanley, who followed the Miners on the internet and even took in a couple of their games at Slippery Rock, Pa. — only one hour, 15 minutes from his hometown of Alliance, Ohio — during his absence, is enjoying his time back in Beckley.
“The atmosphere here is great and the fans are great,” he said. “It’s cool to see all the new guys and meet them all. They’re all great guys. Hopefully, we can bring another championship and keep it going.
“I wish I could have been down earlier for the team, but I’m glad I’m here (now). I’m glad I can do something to help the team bring another championship to Beckley.”
— E-mail: gfauber@