Multiple game win streaks are nothing new to West Virginia who has long been one of the dominant teams in the Prospect League.
However, in light of the early season woes for the Miners bullpen, you can understand if first year head coach, Michael Syrett, will remember this night for quite some time.
Burdened by late inning collapses over the first two weeks of the season, West Virginia rallied twice Wednesday night and the bullpen sealed the game, earning the Miners second win in a row with a 5-4 victory over Normal in game two of their three-game series at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
“I think the fun part about today was letting the guys know how much I actually trust them,” Syrett said. “Just like in life, when you fail at something or you don’t do it quite the way you expect yourself too, you are going to get another shot. When you get your shot, that is when you seize the moment. I feel like that is what our bullpen did today.”
The Cornbelters took the early lead after Christian McKelvey hit a one-out single and Mike Addante followed with a double in the top of the third inning. Clayton McWilliams hit a deep fly ball to left to score McKelvey and Addante later scored on a wild pitch for a 2-0 lead.
While former Woodrow Wilson all-stater, Michael Maiolo, was touched-up for two runs, the young righty kept the Cornbelters in check through five innings of work.
“For being a young guy, (Michael) kept his composer really well,” Syrett said. “I am proud of that kid. His career in baseball is going to be really fun to watch. He is growing a lot and he is learning a lot.”
For the first five innings, the usually potent Miners’ bats were somewhat quiet and had allowed a couple of good scoring chances slip away. Twice Dalton Cornett reached third base — once with no outs — only to be left stranded.
That all changed in the home half of the sixth inning with a little help from the Cornbelters.
Back-to-back walks started the inning before Will Harless was picked off at first base and the Miners looked in danger of letting another opportunity slip away.
However, the Cornbelters gave the Miners hope with two straight errors and the home team came storming back to take the lead.
“As a pitching staff, we know that our hitters are going to get the job done. We know they are going to come in and hit the ball around a little bit,” Syrett said. “Our job as a pitching staff is to keep teams at four runs or less. I am confident if we do that on a nightly bases, the hitters will take care of their end.”
An errant pickoff attempt moved Kyle Schaefer to third who then scored on an error at second base on Jonathan Pasillas’s grounder. Brock Randels worked a two-out walk bringing the red-hot Cornett back to the dish.
Already with a triple and a single in his previous two appearances, the redshirt-junior from Alice Lloyd College ripped a shot down the first base line for a double to score Pasillas, tying the game at 2-2.
A pitching change by the Cornbelters did not slow down the Miners as Caleb Walls greeted Wyatt Wendell with a single which cleared the bases, giving the Miners a 4-2 lead.
Unfortunately for West Virginia, things took a tough turn in the eighth.
Prior to that inning, just two Normal runners had reached base over the previous four innings and both had been erased on double plays started by Pasillas at second base.
When number nine-hitter, Matt Richards, was hit by a pitch to open the eighth, it was a bad omen for the Miners. McKelvey came to the plate and tied the game at 4-4 when he hit a drive over the left-centerfield fence.
This time around though, the Miners had the answer in the bottom of the inning.
Brock Randels led off with a single and swiped second base, setting the stage for Clayton Mehlbauer who singled home the go-ahead run for a 5-4 lead.
Kenny LaPierre came on to close out the game for West Virginia.
After a one-out walk, the Miners sealed the win when a line drive was snagged by Harless at first, who stepped on the base for the game-ending double play.
“Today is a streak, right. Our first one of the year,” Syrett said. “I am not going to get too far ahead of myself, just one day at a time. I am going to go home and enjoy this one, then come back tomorrow and do the same thing.
West Virginia and Normal close out the three-game series tonight at 6:35 p.m.
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