By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The second season begins today for the Concord University Mountain Lions as the inaugural Mountain East Conference baseball tournament opens today at Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley. The Lions will look to make history for the second year in a row as last year they won the last WVIAC tournament and this being the first MEC classic.
Concord, 36-14 overall and 33-11 in MEC play, is the tournament’s second seed. Their first action is against No. 5 Notre Dame College (24-20, 22-17 MEC) at 3 p.m.
The two teams met in a four-game series earlier this season at Anderson Field and the Mountain Lions swept the two doubleheaders. But CU head coach Andrew Wright knows the Falcons, guided by former big league pitcher Len Barker, are a tough opponent.
“I think if you look back at it, we had to play well to beat them. We beat them four times but if you look at the quality of baseball we were playing at that time of the season, we played very well in order to beat them,” Wright said. “They’ve got guys that can pitch, they’ve got a couple of guys in their lineup that can hurt you. If you don’t play your best game, you’re going to open yourself up for defeat. You’ve got to go out there and really focus on your approach and do what you’re capable of doing.”
Concord is capable of doing a great deal on offense and defense. Led by MEC Player of the Year Joey Miller, the Mountain Lions are a tough out. The presence and abilities of Miller at the plate enrich the entire team.
“He (Miller) changes the way everybody else in the lineup gets pitched because when you have a guy in front of him as good as Bret Blevins is, it’s going to change the way Bret gets pitched, so Bret is going to be successful,” Wright said. “Then when you’ve got a guy behind Joey like a Ryan Johnston, who is as good as he is, it’s going to change the way Joey gets pitched.
“So all the way through the lineup, just having Joey’s presence in there changes not only how the middle of the lineup is approached, it changes everybody.”
Miller enters postseason play with a .395 batting average, 64 hits, 12 home runs and 68 RBIs. Blevins leads the team in hitting with a .407 average, has 61 hits and 25 stolen bases. He is currently riding a 19-game hitting streak.
On the mound Concord is paced by Ryan Weatherholtz (7-4), Tyler Coyle (7-2) and Chris Kelly (7-2). Weatherholtz has allowed only two runs in his last 25 and two-third innings of work. He has a 2.83 ERA, 55 strikeouts and seven complete games. Coyle has won his last five starts and Kelly has been strong in the third spot in the rotation.
“From a pitching standpoint, I think what has to happen in order for us to be successful this weekend is our pitchers have to stay the course,” Wright said. “It’s going to sound funny, but I’m going to say that about all three facets. Our defense has been good because we’re very athletic at every position. If we just make the plays that we are capable of making, then I think we are going to be OK there as well. Offensively, if we just really employ a team approach, then I see us doing a good job of manufacturing some runs.”
While Concord is defending WVIAC tournament champion, the precursor to the MEC, Wright does not believe that his team is a target for the rest of the field.
“I think enough of that has dissipated, where us finishing second has kind of placed the bullseye on Shepherd’s back a little bit,” Wright commented. “Everybody knows that we’ve got a good, quality team here, but I don’t necessarily know that people have as long a memory as we think they do. I think it’s just going to be a matter of going out and playing, all six teams that are there are quality baseball teams, and I think they all have a chance to win it.”
Though not a home game, Concord is the closest team to the tournament site and that brings some advantages to the Mountain Lions.
“We’re going up and back. Being as close as we are and our guys still in class, it just allows us to stay in our routine, eat our regular food, sleep in our own beds and do it that way,” Wright said. “I think our guys are very welcome to that.
“It’s an advantage for us. I am pretty sure West Virginia State is in the same situation. I believe they are traveling back and forth as well. We’ve always told our guys it doesn’t matter if you’re sleeping in a hotel, or you’re sleeping in your own bed, once you get to the park you’ve got a job to do, you’ve got to go out and play clean baseball.”
The winner of today’s game will play the winner of the West Virginia State-Urbana contest, Friday at 7 p.m. The loser will face the loser of the Shepherd-West Liberty game at 11 a.m., Friday with that loser eliminated from tournament play.
— Contact Bob Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org