Friday evening on Star Wars Night at Linda K. Epling Stadium, the Force was with the hometown Miners.
Holding off the Empirical charge from the visiting Terre Haute Rex, West Virginia rode a run scoring double from Hayden Skipper in its last at-bat for a 5-4 win.
The triumph broke a two-game slide for the Miners and snapped the seven-game winning streak for the Rex.
“That was probably the cleanest game that we played all year,” West Virginia manager Tim Epling said. “Me personally, I feel like this is one of the better games we have had this year. That kid from Dallas Baptist (Rex starter Jacob Young) threw hard. We had some guys in there tonight that hadn’t played in a couple of games. It is good when you rest guys and then they come out and perform because all of them can play.”
Terre Haute took the early lead in the second inning when a lead-off walk to Randal Diaz turned into the first run of the game after Rex right-fielder Aaron Beck singled him home.
An inning later the Miners took their first lead of the game aided by some loose play from the Rex.
Silas Butler was hit by a pitch to open the inning and Devan Hooper followed with a solid single. Brittan Shandler worked a one-out walk to load the bases before Kevin Shea evened the game with a ground ball out.
Back-to-back errors allowed West Virginia to quickly add two more runs.
An errant pick-off attempt at first base from Young went flying off the restraining wall into right field allowing Hooper to score and Shea to advance to third.
When Beck’s throw missed the cut-off man and went wide of third base, Shea waltzed home to give West Virginia a 3-1 lead.
The advantage increased to three runs in the fifth when Shandler hit a chopper that bounced over Brennan Dubose at first base for a double and later scored on a single from Shea.
After allowing the lone run in the second inning, West Virginia starter Nathan Riddle had held the Rex scoreless for three and two-thirds innings before running into some two-out trouble in the sixth.
A triple in the right-center gap from Diaz preceded a big blast from Dubose which made it a 4-3 game.
The Rex went deep again to open the eighth inning off reliever Carlos Marquez. Jordan Schaffer greeted Marquez with a no-doubter over the left-field fence to tie the game at 4-4.
West Virginia answered the bell in the bottom of the inning with Skipper’s double after Shea had singled in front of him.
However, there was still three outs to record and Epling went to a familiar face in an odd position. Known for his power hitting and solid defense, Eddie Leon let it be known he can throw it a little bit too.
“I like the way we pitched it. Riddle had a good game. Marquez came in and threw strikes and Jake (Killingsworth) called a good game,” Epling said. “That was the first time that Eddie had been out there on the mound this year. He has some pop to it. That was a big pressure situation for his first game.”
After striking out the first batter swinging, Leon hit a batter and surrendered a single to put runners at first and second.
“Every game for us seems like it has been out of the frying pan into the fire,” Epling said, laughing.
On this night, however, the Miners did not get burned.
Leon recorded his second strikeout of the inning and coaxed a ground ball out to secure the win.
“We may win some and we may lose some, but we are playing better overall. If we can get a couple more arms in and build some depth with our pitching staff we will be fine,” Epling said. “We are just piecing stuff together right now. We only have about two true starters and it drives me a little crazy, but that is where we are at.”
West Virginia is on the road Saturday at Chillicothe before heading to Lafayette (Ind.) for a two-game set with the Aviators.
The Miners return to Chillicothe Tuesday before hosting Lafayette for four straight games in Beckley.