By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
One of West Virginia Miners manager Tim Epling’s go-to expressions in talking about adversity is “behind the 8-ball.” That’s exactly where he sees his team as it tries to lock up a postseason berth.
The Miners visit the Jamestown Jammers tonight in the most important game of the season’s first half. Both teams are 19-10, tied for first place in the Prospect League East Division standings. The winner will claim the first half championship and the playoff spot that goes with it.
The way Epling sees it, West Virginia faces the steepest of uphill battles. Injuries and the suspension of center fielder Dylan Harvey have depleted the roster to just nine position players.
Yes, it’s gut-check time.
“We talked to them about it today, it’s up to them to be able to handle the pressure,” Epling said. “It’s all about how you mentally prepare to do the things that we do. … When you are put into a corner, the only way to get out is to come out fighting.
“Tommy Lasorda (former Los Angeles Dodgers manager) told me at the Winter Meetings when I was (an umpire) in the Minor Leagues, ‘My players can win without me, but I cannot win without my players.’
“That’s the situation we’re in right now.”
The roster was cut by one on Sunday when Harvey was ejected in the sixth inning of the Miners’ 6-2 loss to Champion City in the second game of a doubleheader. Harvey was tossed for telling home plate umpire Pat Weber to shut up, as it was explained to Epling.
Epling will also serve a one-game suspension. He was ejected after defending Harvey, and was also tossed from the first game, triggering the automatic suspension.
“Losing him was uncalled for, which is what is so depressing about it,” said Epling, who believes Weber was hasty in kicking Harvey out of the game. “My judgment is that the official did not handle that situation well. There was no grounds for throwing him out.”
Epling said Harvey has been the difference maker for the Miners, just as Luke Meeteer was in 2012 and Pat Kregeloh in 2013. The Miners won the league championship both seasons.
Harvey leads the league with 26 stolen bases and is fifth with a .340 batting average to go along with a .472 on-base percentage.
“They are all important, but Harvey is hard to replace,” Epling said. “He gets on base and creates havoc.”
Right-hander Matt Anderson (3-0, 1.29 earned run average) will start for West Virginia. Anderson joined the Miners a week late out of Morehead State, but leads the league with 34 strikeouts in 28 innings.
The plan is to also use Dallas Baptist freshman Gavin Fritz and closer James Doubet out of the bullpen.
“That’s a pretty darn good combination, if those three do their jobs,” Epling said.
One other potential barrier could be the weather. There is a 50 percent chance of severe thunderstorms, and Jamestown’s Russell E. Diethrick Jr. Park has a natural grass field.
The first half will end tonight even if the game is rained out. If so, the title will go to Jamestown, which owns the tiebreaker by virtue of its 3-1 series edge over the Miners.
Hitting coach Greg Keaton will manage in Epling’s absence. Keaton was an assistant to Epling at WVU Tech.
First pitch tonight is 6:35 p.m. The game can be heard on WJLS AM 560 and online at wjlsam.com with Garry Griffith on the call.
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