Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 13, 2012

Strong Miner

Strong just that in Prospect League

BECKLEY — Once the puns on Bradley Strong’s surname are out of your system, you can truly appreciate the talent of the West Virginia Miners’ all-star third baseman.

Strong has been arguably the team’s best player, either the No. 1 or 2 hitter all season. And his — ahem — strong throws across the diamond have amazed the fans.

He just finished his freshman year at Western Carolina, which might make his success surprising to some. But Strong felt all along that he was set to have a big summer.

“I definitely had high expectations for myself and for the team,” Strong said Friday after the Miners’ game with Richmond was postponed because of rain. “I got off to a good start, although here lately I have kind of cooled down. But I want to continue to do big things for this team.”

Even with a recent mini-slump, Strong has been a major catalyst for West Virginia.

Strong is eighth in the Prospect League with a .348 batting average. He has scored 30 runs and driven in 21 while hitting six doubles and four triples. His 16 stolen bases are tied for fourth in the league, four behind leader and teammate Luke Meeteer.

Strong’s stellar first half was rewarded with a starting spot in Wednesday’s All-Star game. He was 0 for 2 with a walk and the East Division lost 10-1, giving the West homefield advantage in the best-of-three league championship series.

Strong would have preferred a win, but is thankful for the experience.

“The travel out there (to Springfield, Ill.) was not the best, but it was a blessing to be in that game,” he said. “In an all-star game, everybody is good, and it was good to learn from the other players and implement it to your game.”

A Richlands, Va., native, Strong is actually a second-year Miner. He arrived late in the season last summer and played second base.

He was a middle infielder while playing for his father, Brad, at Richlands High, where he was the 2011 Virginia high school player of the year. When he got to Western Carolina, there was an opening at third base that he had little trouble filling.

He did commit 13 errors at the corner, but his offense didn’t suffer. Strong hit .305 with 27 runs scored and 24 RBIs while playing in all 55 games for the Catamounts, 46 of them starts.

Strong has developed a reputation for his lazer throws from third to first.

“I learned from (the move to third base) every day,” Strong said. “But my background playing shortstop helped develop my arm.”

Playing on the artificial turf at Linda K. Epling Stadium certainly doesn’t hurt Strong’s defense.

“It (the ball) comes at you pretty quick, but you are able to trust the ball,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about bad hops.”

Along with his obvious skills, what also stands out about Strong is a confidence that belies his 19 years. Playing for a Southern Conference team that beat the likes of Clemson and Georgia will help in that department.

“There is definitely some good competition in this league,” Strong said. “But playing in the Southern Conference this year sped up my learning curve.”

The Miners already have their spot in the league playoffs secured, so they could go winless the rest of the second half and be OK. But Strong isn’t worried about the team staying motivated.

“All the guys want to win,” he said. “The Eplings, they do so much for us, winning is the least we can do. They do a great job with the facility and everything else. All of us will give it our all.

“I want to finish strong and help this team win a championship.”

No pun intended.

•••

West Virginia (25-13 overall, 4-3 second half) and Richmond (21-16, 6-1) will play a doubleheader today starting at 4:05 p.m. Both games will be scheduled for seven innings.

It will be Chick-fil-A Night at the stadium.

— E-mail: gfauber

@register-herald.com

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