By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
“Play ball!” In eight days those words will signal the beginning of another baseball season at Bluefield State College. On Feb. 8 the Big Blues will make the trek to Greensboro, N.C. to face Guilford in its season opener and for a majority of the players on the BSC roster it will be the first game of their college career.
Veteran coach Geoff Hunter, in his 32nd year with the program, has 14 freshmen on the 26-man roster. There are also five sophomores, five juniors and only two seniors. Additionally 18 of the 26 are new to the program as only eight players return from the 2012 team that played to a 12-32 record, 8-22 in the WVIAC.
Hunter said the Big Blues this spring will be doing some new and different things in order to improve success on the field and in preparing for the future. He said the coaches around the WVIAC know him and his tendencies and he plans to shake things up a bit on the diamond.
The high number of freshmen compared to previous year is geared to the future. In the past BSC has brought in junior college players, but with the possible end of the WVIAC at the conclusion of this school year and uncertainty surrounding Bluefield State’s future conference home, Hunter has embraced a youth movement to build the team to play in the future in whichever conference the school may land.
“We are still in the WVIAC. At this point we have schools that have committed to the Mountain East. You’ve got people who have left for the GMAC (Great Midwest Athletic Conference), and other schools that went to the PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference), Seton Hill and Pitt-Johnstown,” Hunter said. “Officially we are the only ones still hanging in there (the WVIAC), which is nice, but we’ve got to have somebody to play. At some point it’s going to start affecting our ability to recruit.”
Hunter said that during the early signing period in November, Bluefield State was the only WVIAC school not to have any early commitments.
“I think that has to do with the fact there is some wonder-ment about where we’re going to be,” Hunter concluded.
On the diamond there are a plethora of players from the region. Princeton (J.C. Pennington, Alex Quick, Sean Williams), River View (Jacob Muncy, Cody Underwood), Graham (Taylor Gearhart), Summers County (Tanner Lilly), James Monroe (Jackson Mohler, Ridge Sibold), Giles (Rusty Rainey), Fort Chiswell (Josh Underwood) and Greenbrier East High Schools (Clay Ayers) are represented on the active roster. Princeton freshman Seth Rose is also on the team and is being red-shirted this season.
Rusty Rainey returns as the Big Blue with the highest batting average from last year. The right-handed pitcher and infielder batted .280 and played in all 44 of the team’s games. He had 44 hits including nine doubles and two home runs. Outfielder Sean Williams of Princeton also played in all 44 games and had a .256 average with 34 hits and 16 RBI.
On the mound BSC returns only two pitchers who saw action last season. Rainey had a 2-1 record in nine appearances, and Robert Haggerty sported a 1-5 mark, also in nine games.
Looking to work on the hill for the Big Blues this spring will be right handers Ayers, Muncy, Sibold, Alex Dunn, Tyler Frazier, Eli Nichols and Taylor Perez.
There are no left-handed pitchers on BSC’s roster.
“I think we’re a very talented group,” Hunter said. “Our biggest weakness will be experience, but we are fortunate to have some good leadership with some of our upperclassmen and that has helped us to steer the freshmen in the right direction. I think we have a really good work ethic about us.
“Everybody would like to have a little bit more pitching. We’ve been working with 11 kids. That’s stretching it a little bit, you’d like to have a little more depth than that. We have several players who are talented pitchers, but they are also position players, two-way guys. If we can avoid the injury bite, I think the fact that we have talent, we have kids that work real hard, and the fact that we have a good chemistry about us is going to be a strength for our club.”
Baseball this time of year in southern West Virginia is a tricky proposition. Most of the Big Blues workouts have come in what’s known as the “turf room” at the Ned Shott Gymnasium and some in parking lots. There has been very little time spent outside.
“We were out on our field for one day,” Hunter pointed out. “We worked really hard for two days to get it ready and we had a really good workout one day. We’ve been out on the tarmac, the parking lot, either in the pit (on the BSC campus) or over outside at Bowen Field and Mitchell Stadium. We’ve been out there three times.
“To be honest, that’s usually more opportunities than we usually get at this point. We play mostly on the weekends in February and an occasional game during the week. That gives us time to work on things.”
After the opener next Saturday at Guilford, the Big Blues take on Montreat at a neutral site in Greer, S.C. on Feb. 16-17. The home opener, weather permitting, is scheduled for Feb. 19 at June O. Shott Field against Southern Virginia University.
— Contact Bob Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org