Miners are Beasts of the East Again

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Not all wins are pretty, not even the walkoffs.

No one has ever given one back, either.

Pinch-runner Lyndale Morley scored on a wild pitch with two outs in the ninth inning, giving the West Virginia Miners a 4-3 win over the Chillicothe Paints for the Prospect League East Division championship Sunday. After missing the playoffs for the first time in their existence last summer, the Miners returned to the top of the East Division mountain, winning their fourth title in six seasons.

Up next for the Miners is the Prospect League Championship Series, which starts Tuesday in Beckley. West Virginia will host Terre Haute, which swept Danville in the West Division series.

“There’s ugly wins, and then there’s ugly wins,” Miners manager Tim Epling said. “But I’ll take them any way I can.”

Especially the way this season has shaped out.

West Virginia won the first half championship to lock up its playoff spot early. But then came word that six starting pitchers were leaving, and Epling was faced with retooling the staff. It worked out, even if it wasn’t always pretty — just like the ninth inning in the East clincher.

Jesus Villalobos started the inning with a walk off Chillicothe closer Derek Hendrixson and Morley came in as a pinch-runner. With Dom Iero looking to bunt him over, the Paints made it easier when Morley took second on a passed ball by catcher Austin Szink.

Iero then swung away and flied out. Stone Osborne came up, and another passed ball allowed Morley to take third.

Osborne struck out, leaving it up to James Keller.

Keller fell behind 0-2 on a breaking ball, and Hendrixson threw another one in the dirt. Szink — a defensive replacement after starter Drew Erie was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the inning — could not find the ball, which had hopped to the first base side of the plate, and Morley scored standing up with his arms raised.

Morley, who was signed primarily as a pitcher but can also play outfield, was mobbed by his teammates.

“It was a weird way to win, but we definitely got it done,” said left fielder Hunter Vansau, who moved up to the No. 2 spot in the order after hitting eighth the first two games. “Lyndale did a good job of reading that ball and Keller did a good job working the count to set ourselves up for that to happen.”

Epling said he wasn’t surprised Hendrixson threw another breaking ball with Szink having trouble holding on to pitches.

“No, because the pitch before, that Keller swung at, was in the dirt,” Epling said. “I told Morley, ‘He’s gonna throw another curveball, so be ready to go if it bounces.’ He threw another one. I was just hoping Keller didn’t swing at it.”

Epling said the idea to use Morley as a pinch-runner came from hitting coach Greg Keaton. He listed that as just one of the moves made by his assistants — Danny Flores, Joe Goddard and Gary Epling — that led to the win.

“That’s just a testament to the coaches giving me the right information,” Epling said. “My coaches get all the credit. They have done everything to get these guys prepared. I’m just happy to be a part of those guys.”

The game had the feel of a nailbiter throughout the afternoon.

The Miners took a 3-0 lead in the first inning off starter Tom Colletti. The first three batters singled to load the bases. After a Dan Ward strikeout, Jonathan Weeks hit a chopper down the third base line.

Chad Roberts was unable to field it cleanly, then threw wildly to first. Dylan Harvey scored to put the Miners ahead 1-0.

Villalobos then doubled to drive in Vansau and Zach Sterry for the three-run advantage.

It didn’t last.

The Miners offense all but disappeared. They had just one baserunner from the fourth through eighth innings — Iero was erased on a double play after singling in the sixth.

Meanwhile, the Paints were chipping away.

A two-out RBI single by Matt Eppers scored Eli Boggess to make it 3-1 in the second.

Two innings later, Boggess led off with a double down the right field line and scored on Erie’s suicide squeeze off Miners reliever Conor Grove.

West Virginia entrusted its precarious lead to the 1-2 bullpen punch of Calvin Coker and James Doubet. Chillicothe got to Coker in the seventh, although it took some work.

Eppers led off with a single and was bunted over by Grant Miller. Deion Tansel then hit a ground ball to shortstop, and Iero was able to throw to Ward at third for the tag on Eppers.

However, Tansel later stole second and scored on a single by Roberts to tie the game.

 

 

Coker closed out the inning and added a perfect eighth. Doubet pitched around a walk and base hit in the ninth to set up the late fireworks and was credited with the win.

Hendrixson, who had 17 saves in the regular season, took the loss despite not allowing a hit in 1 1-3 innings.

The Miners won three straight East Division titles from 2011-13, beating Chillicothe in the latter two. Each time the Miners and Paints have met in the divisional playoffs, the winner went on to win the league title.

Chillicothe did it in 2010, the Miners’ inaugural season.

Game 1 Tuesday is set for 7:05 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling the ticket office at 304-252-7233, going towvminersbaseball.com or by visiting the ticket office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

After a travel day Wednesday, Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) will be played in Terre Haute, Ind. The Miners will be offering a free chartered bus trip to Terre Haute. Fans will be responsible for their own food and hotel stay.

— E-mail: gfauber@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber

 

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