The road show continues for the Bluefield State baseball team.
At least this time it was just across town.
“This is our 29th game in a row on the road,” Bluefield State head coach Geoff Hunter said. “Technically this is their game so I am counting it.”
Bluefield College is counting it too, as a win, as the Rams defeated the Big Blues 6-2 on a windy and chilly Wednesday afternoon at Bowen Field.
The cross-town rivalry returned to the schedule after the clubs didn’t play last season.
“They did play very well, we were fortunate,” Bluefield head coach Mike White said. “We got some timely hits and were able to run the bases pretty well. It is a good to be playing again, we need to do that, we are too close not to.”
Bluefield State (8-21), which dropped its 13th straight game after an 8-8 start, out-hit the Rams 13-7, getting the leadoff batter on in four of the first seven innings, but Bluefield turned four double plays.
“They have a very good defensive team,” Hunter said. “Obviously they took us out of three of the first four innings turning really good double plays. You have to take your hat off to them, they are well prepared and well coached.”
Bluefield (25-11), which had a 13-game win streak during a 13-2 start to the campaign, has gone 12-13 since then, but the Rams do play in the Mid-South Conference, which includes some of the top NAIA schools in the nation.
“We are fortunate to be where we are at,” White said. “It is critical what these kids have done. They come out and battle every day. We felt like two or three years ago we were right where we wanted to be and I feel like with this group we are getting there.”
Tyler Frazier led off the game for Bluefield State with a single to center field off Bluefield ace Zac Russell-Myers, who pitched just one inning in anticipation of a series this weekend at Shawnee State, which is currently tied for second in the competitive Mid-South.
Dale Davis followed with a single to move Frazier to third. Ricky Diaz then hit a ground ball that was turned into a double play, allowing Frazier to cross the plate for the 1-0 lead.
Bluefield used five pitchers in all, with Kaleb Houchins coming in the second and picking up the win with three innings on the mound.
“We tried to get everybody some work in the middle of the week to get ready for the weekend,” White said. “We would like to set it up where we have got everybody that can help us. We have done it pretty much most of the year with them in the midweek games. Everybody gets a little bit of work and it has been paying off.”
That lead was quickly erased in the bottom of the first when Russell-Myers singled, swiped one of six Bluefield stolen bases, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jacob Schober.
In Bluefield State’s current losing skid, the Big Blues had allowed at least 10 runs in seven of those 13 games, but four pitchers were able to hold the Rams down to seven hits, including two extra base knocks, an RBI double by Kahlin Villines and a solo homer from Russell-Myers.
Ben Fraley started for the Big Blues, allowing five runs in 3 2/3 innings to get saddled with the loss. He did struggled with his control, walking five batters, three of whom scored in the opening three frames.
“It all depends on the pitching performance,” Hunter said. “You have just got to throw strikes and hopefully make plays and when you do that you will hang around here in the ball games.
“We are just glad to finally be able to get some games in, although we are playing a lot. The kids work hard so they deserve the opportunity to play.”
Bluefield added runs in the second and third on infield ground balls by Villines and Schober. The Rams added two in the fourth on Villines’ double and a single from Russell-Myers for the 5-1 lead.
That was it for Bluefield other than the Russell-Myers home run over the left field fence in the seventh. Among the relievers for the Big Blues were local products Alex Quick (Princeton), Ridge Sibold (James Monroe) — who allowed the long ball — and Cody Justus (Grundy).
“We did come to play today,” said Hunter, whose Blues last won at Elizabeth City State on March 15. “We have played a lot of ball games in the last 10 days so our pitching is a little bit thin. I thought we did a pretty good job on defense and I thought we hit the ball and played hard and that is all we can ask.”
Bluefield State continued to collect hits, led by Alex Dunn and Tanner Lilly with three hits each, while Diaz added two. Lilly and Kevin Moxey each had doubles, but the Big Blues stranded eight runners on base, and also bounced into all those double plays.
It was Moxey’s double in the eighth that pulled the Blues to the final margin, scoring Diaz, who had singled and moved to second on a wild pitch.
“It was one of those baseball games where you go back and look at it, they get a leadoff single, ground into a double play, we were kind of fortunate right there,” White said. “Our guys did a good job of throwing strikes and trying to be ahead. It was a good baseball game.”
Russell-Myers had two hits, drove in two runs, scored two runs and had two stolen bases. Dan Copeland added two hits and Villines contributed two RBIs and swiped two bases. Tyler Timmer drew three walks. Dylan Cole, William Kane and Cory Niten followed Houchins out of the bullpen, as the Bluefield hurlers combined to strike out four and walked none.
Only eight of the 10 teams in the Mid-South Conference will qualify for the postseason tournament in two weeks. The Rams, who didn’t make the playoffs last year, are currently seventh, but only two games separate six of those teams. Only first place Georgetown is clear from trouble.
“You can go from second to seventh in one weekend,” White said. “Campbellsville went from fifth to second in one weekend. They are starting to get some separation in there.
“I feel like we have put ourselves in a pretty good situation, but that can all go away in one weekend.”
Bluefield State, which is playing an independent schedule this season, will play its first ‘official’ home game next Tuesday when Ohio Valley plays the Big Blues ... at Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium.
All those road trips to four different states — which will continue on Friday at Bridgewater and this weekend at West Virginia Tech — could take a toll on any club, but Hunter has been pleased with how his Blues have dealt with adversity.
“They have got a good attitude about them,” Hunter said. “We are just playing. There is not a lot of practicing going on because when we are not playing they are going to class and resting.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
at Bowen Field
Bluefield State........100 000 010 — 2 13 1
Bluefield..................111 200 10x — 6 7 0
Ben Fraley, Alex Quick (4), Ridge Sibold (6), Cody Justus (8) and Kyle Blocker, Crachad Laing (6). Zac Russell-Myers, Kaleb Houchins (2), Dylan Cole (5), William Kane (7), Cory Niten (8) and Tyler Lundgren. W—Houchins; L—Fraley. HR—Russell-Myers (BC) 7th, 0 on.