J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
There was a smile on the face and gleam in the eyes of West Virginia Miners owner Doug Epling Tuesday night. And why shouldn’t there be?
This week marks 52 years since he and his bride Linda were married.
And he celebrated it in a fashion fit for a Hollywood film.
Epling watched as his son Tim coached the team he owns to a 5-3 victory over the Richmond RiverRats in a stadium that bears his wife’s name.
“It’s a great anniversary gift for them,” Miners manager Tim Epling said. “I guarantee you this, there’s not an owner in this entire country that wants to win as much as he does. It feels good to have ownership that really, really wants to do that and that speaks of him.”
“We try to do that,” Epling added. “And Dad and his competitive nature wants to win at everything he does and so he demands it.”
It’s a trait Doug has passed down to his son. Tim is demanding on the field and it shows.
The Miners have won 12 of their last 14 games and now sit a game ahead of the Chilicothe Paints for first place in the Prospect League East Division.
“Ya know, we’ve been here before. We’ve been doing this just right for a while now and ya know, right now is a good point for us to be at the top, but it only matters in the end,” Epling said. “We’ve still got about 26 or 28 games left. We still have a tough schedule and so that’s a lot of games. And although we’re winning, we’ve just got to stay consistent.”
One thing that has been consistent for the Miners has been their pitching staff. Starter Ryan Perez and Rolando Celis combined for 10 strikeouts on the night, and allowed Perez his first victory in his first game of the season.
“I’m glad he got that first game underneath his belt,” Epling said. “I know he was nervous. For him to come out here and in an environment he really wasn’t familiar with — ya know, he’s a young kid — and he came in there and did exactly what he needed to do.”
The ambidextrous pitcher, who threw only right-handed, gave up three runs on five hits and struck out four.
Celis came in for Perez in the sixth and struck out six, including the final three in the top of the ninth.
The pitching wasn’t the only thing clicking for the Miners. The bats were hard at work as well.
“We got some quality at-bats,” Epling added. “I like the way we got the pitcher to 90 or 100 pitches right around the seventh inning. That was our goal and then we manufactured some runs. We had a couple guys who had been struggling to get some hits.”
One player who had been struggling was Zach Woolcock. Woolcock had managed only a single hit in his last four games, but broke through in the bottom of the eighth on Tuesday to give the Miners some added insurance.
Woolcock singled and late reached third on a wild pitch. He was then driven home by Robert Tavone Jr.
“Zach has been pressing,” Epling said. “He’s been one of the better hitters in the league, and he’s been really struggling the last couple games. I was glad to see him hit the ball down the third base (line) and get the extra run we needed. That run was big.”
The Miners will now travel to Chillicothe to take on the Paints today with that one-game lead on the line.
The Paints and Lorain County had a doubleheader rained out on Tuesday.
“It’s fun to go up to Chillicothe, because ya know what? They bring a crowd,” Epling said. “Every time we go up there, they’ll have two or three thousand people in the stands. That energizes players. I want them to be able to compete in that environment and be able to come out there and compete really hard.
“This team is a new team and so I’m anxious,” Epling added.” I’d like to see how they react to the pressure of people getting on them, being really loud and having a really, really tough game atmosphere.”
It’s an atmosphere Epling hopes to thrive in.
“We just have to maintain our composure,” he said. “That’s always been the key in this game. We’ve been blessed to come together as a team, and ya know, that’s fun. That’s fun for me to coach. To know that the players are having fun. We’re kind of like a big family.”
— E-mail: jrollins@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.
RR: 020 001 000 — 3 5 2
WVM: 002 020 01x — 5 7 2
RR: Michael Chiaro, Scott Ashford (7) and Garrett Ruckel, WVM: Ryan Perez, Rolando Celis (6) and Robert Travone Jr. WP — Perez. LP — Chiaro. S— Celis. Hitting — RR: Robbie Stein 1-4 (2b), Jacob Bosiokovic 2-3 (2 run, 2b), Garrett Ruckel (run), Jordan Nieman (rbi), Kyle Leslie 1-4, Ryan Adkins 1-4 (2b), WVM: Dale Davis 1-2 (run, rbi), Kaeo Aliviado 2-3 (run), Pat Kregeloh 1-4 (rbi), Griffin Moore (rbi), Zach Woolcock 2-4 (run), Robert Travone Jr. (rbi), Kenny May (run), Evan Potter 1-2 (run).
Records: WVM (24-14); RR (14-24).