Rain cuts West Virginia’s long road trip short

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As it begins, so it shall end.

What was supposed to be a six-game road trip had that kind of feel for the West Virginia Miners. The trip turned out to be a four-game deal thanks to rain that seems to have victimized Springfield, Ohio, just as much as it has southern West Virginia.

The trip started with a rainout there Tuesday of their scheduled game against Champion City, forcing a doubleheader against the Kings when the Miners returned there Sunday.

Well, it rained again and the twinbill was cancelled.

Between the rainouts was a win at Kokomo on Wednesday, a loss at Springfield on Thursday and again on Friday, then another win at Kokomo on Saturday.

Rainout, win, loss. Loss, win, rainout.

The palindromic turn of events wound up being a bit of a blessing in disguise. West Virginia manager Tim Epling was concerned about how taxing the trip would be on his pitching staff. With two games axed, it wasn’t as bad as he anticipated.

“We actually went into today in pretty good shape,” Epling said. “We had four or five arms ready to go. We were in better shape than I thought we would be.”

Right-hander Tyler Wirsu made his West Virginia debut in Saturday’s 11-2 win over the Jackrabbits. The Gordon State College product worked six innings, walking three and striking out one, but limiting Kokomo to four hits and one earned run.

“He threw well,” Epling said. “He kept the ball around the plate. It was sticky and humid and hot, and he had some trouble with his breaking pitches at times. The heat index was probably around 130. But he kept it around the plate and made them swing.”

Wirsu isn’t the only new face fans will see when the Miners start a three-game homestand Tuesday. Pitcher Andrew O’Brien from Riverside Community College — where he is a teammate of fellow Miners pitcher Tyler Rowe — has been in Beckley waiting for his new team to return.

Also, Ashton Cox of North Carolina-Pembroke will provide catching depth.

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The Miners (6-6 second half, 26-16 overall) made the trip without top hitter Zach Sterry. The Oakland University product missed all four games after having an MRI on his left (non-throwing) shoulder. The injury had kept him off first base but he stayed in the lineup as the designated hitter.

The MRI came back negative, so Sterry will be available starting Tuesday against Butler.

Sterry, the Home Run Derby champion at Prospect League All-Star festivities two weeks ago, leads West Virginia with a .321 average, 13 doubles and 29 runs batted in.

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The University of Akron announced recently that it is cutting its baseball program as part of a plan to save the school $40 million. That left Miners shortstop Dom Iero and pitcher Masashi Sakamoto without a college to call home.

Iero, however, recently decided to transfer to Akron rival Kent State — the alma mater of all-time Miners great Joe Koch. And Sakamoto has options, including University of Charleston, Dayton, Oakland and UAB — which, ironically, axed its football program in December only to reverse that decision in June.

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The road trip wasn’t all good for the Miners. The team bus was halted for more than an hour due to some sort of electrical problem on U.S. 35 outside of Buffalo Sunday night.

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

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