How else to conclude a classic baseball victory than with Fourth of July fireworks?
The West Virginia Miners jumped the gun with some pyrotechnics of their own, scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and then holding on for dear life in the ninth for a 4-3 victory over the Chillicothe Paints at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
The loud, happy celebration before 3,029 fans was a big change from the previous night, when the Miners could do little right in a 14-9 loss to Champion City.
“They played with intensity. I’m very proud of the way they reacted after yesterday,” manager Tim Epling said. “They really gutted it out. They handled the pressure well, with adversity and me jumping on them.”
West Virginia is strapped for pitching after several starters left the team. But Jake Belinda, and his opposite number, Jason Byers of Chillicothe, kept the game scoreless through the first seven innings.
Belinda started poorly, with five walks in the first three innings, but settled down.
Both pitchers gave up four hits before leaving in the eighth.
“Jake is so competitive. He’s a bulldog,” Epling said. “He’s a starter with a closer mentality, and you can always win with those guys.”
Their replacements struggled, as first Chillicothe, and then West Virginia roared into the lead.
Belinda faced two batters in the eighth, walking Grant Miller and giving up a bunt single to Deion Tansel. Reliever James Doubet replaced Belinda and Chad Roberts advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt.
An intentional walk to Derek Hug to set up a double play misfired, as both Hunter Prince and Tanner Allison followed with RBI singles.
Doubet settled down and struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
Undaunted, West Virginia rallied from the outset in its half of the inning. Cal Hernandez singled, Dylan Harvey walked, Dom Iero doubled him home and Justin Paul reached on an error.
Epling said the plan was for Iero to try a squeeze bunt.
“Dom said, ‘Coach, I’ll hit this ball. I will not hit into a double play,’” Epling said. “I said OK, and lo and behold he doubles down the line.
“Sometimes coaches don’t have the answers, but the players have it figured out. We won the game because of his decision to tell me he wanted to swing the bat. It was very, very important.”
Ironically, reliever Steve Huber had not given up a run all season prior to the game. He gave way to Bryce Arledge, who immediately walked Zach Sterry to tie the game.
The Paints went to their bullpen again, bringing in Derek Hendrixson, and while he struck out Dan Ward, Jonathan Weeks ripped a double to right-center.
Iero and Paul scored, while Sterry was out at home plate. Ray Lopez then flied out to end the inning with West Virginia up 4-2.
Chillicothe went down fighting in the top of the ninth. Jordan Godman singled off Doubet, and Miller and Tansel both reached on infield errors to load the bases.
Doubet walked Chad Roberts to bring in a run, then, amazingly, found his control.
He struck out Hug, Prince and Allison in order to end the game and grab the win.
“Doubet is the best closer in the league,” Epling said. “He saw adversity, and then got three straight strikeouts.”
Iero and Weeks both had two of the Miners’ seven hits.
The victory gave the first-half East Division champion Miners a 2-2 mark in the second half.
“For the team to have a gut check was very refreshing,” Epling said.
The Miners will host Chillicothe again today at 2:05 p.m. It’s Qdobo’s Kids Day, and all children will be admitted free.