Last season the Region III, Section 2 championship came down to a face-off between the Bluefield Beavers and Wyoming East Warriors. The Beavers gave the Warriors all they could handle before East captured the section and went on to win the Class AA state championship.
Thursday night at Bowen Field the two teams met for the first time this season and if the game were any indication of things to come, it’s going to once again be an exciting tournament season.
Wyoming East got a pair of runs in the first inning, picked up three double plays and held on for a 4-1 win over the Beavers. Bluefield out-hit the Warriors, but the runs in the first and two insurance runs late in the game gave the visitors the win.
“I thought for the most part our defense was pretty good,” said veteran Wyoming East head coach Ron Mayhew. “(Derek) Thornton did great. He’s a work horse but he didn’t get his curve ball moving until the very end and they (Bluefield) liked his fastball a little bit.
“It was a good baseball game. I like coming over here. It’s a good team, good coaching and today we won.”
A leadoff walk by Bluefield’s Justin Lightfoot to Austin Canada and back-to-back one-out doubles to Christian Hedinger and Thornton gave the Warriors a quick 2-0 lead.
Justin Mariotti led off the Beavers’ first with a single to left, but a double play and a K got Thornton out of the inning. Lightfoot aided his own cause in the second with a one-out single, but a strike out-throw out double play ended the inning for Wyoming East.
Meanwhile for Bluefield, Lightfoot was mowing his way through the Warriors’ lineup. He retired the side in order in the second. In the third East got two runners aboard, both hit by pitches, but no runs crossed the plate. In the fourth Hunter Justice drew a two-out walk, but catcher Cody Goins cut him down attempting to steal second.
Bluefield threatened in the second. Jeremy Thompson singled up the middle and Randy Maxey reached on a one-out error. Both runners moved ahead 90 feet on a groundout, but were stranded when Thornton picked up his second strikeout of the game.
The Beavers got on the board in the bottom of the fourth when Trevor Mullins opened the frame with a triple that short-hopped the wall in left-center. He touched home safely when Lightfoot grounded out to short and it was a 2-1 game. Christian Oster got a single later in the inning but was stranded.
East pushed across its final two runs of the game thanks to two singles and an error in the fifth. Simmons singled and Zach Whitten reached on a one-out error that scored Simmons. Whitten came home on Hedinger’s single to left with the game’s final run.
Logan Lineberry collected a one-out single and it looked like a rally may develop for Bluefield in the bottom of the sixth. However, Wyoming East rolled their third double play of the game to end the inning. Both teams went down in order in the seventh inning.
“Double play balls are killing us,” said Bluefield head coach Justin Gilbert. “Right now we’re hitting the balls right at people, but the only thing I can tell the kids is, ‘Don’t drop your heads, keep hitting the ball hard,’ because the thing about baseball is a lot of this stuff right now doesn’t really matter.
“Come sectional time everybody is 0-0 and that’s the way we are going to approach this season.”
Bluefield (3-9) had seven hits in the game, led by Mariotti with two. Six of the Beavers’ nine batters picked up hits. Wyoming East (8-3) collected only four hits off Lightfoot, two of them by Hedinger.
Thornton picked up the win as he worked the complete seven innings. He allowed one run on seven hits and struck out seven. He did not walk a batter.
Lightfoot, despite allowing only four hits was tagged with the loss. He struck out three and walked three and allowed four runs, three of them earned as he also worked the complete contest. Lightfoot hit two batters.
Gilbert talked about his pitcher’s performance.
“You couldn’t ask for any more. With 10 games in the last 13 days, he (Lightfoot) knew that he needed to log some innings so we could rest some guys for Saturday and games coming up next week. I can’t ask for much more,” Gilbert said. “He went out there and gave us everything we needed.
“We didn’t support him much with the sticks. I would have liked to have given him some more runs, but he battled through-and-through.”
Mayhew said, “We started off kind of rough because we started playing too early. We didn’t have much time to get out and practice. We ran into some good teams at the wrong time and jumped out and got our butt kicked a little bit. But since then we’ve gotten better and are getting more consistent.
“We’ve still got work to do. We’re going to go back and develop some more pitching.”
The Beavers have suffered injury problems this season, losing pitcher and infielder R.J. Bourne for essentially the entire season, and just Tuesday night losing pitcher, infielder and outfielder Andrew Siegel to a hamstring pull. Gilbert said they will not rush Siegel back into the lineup and expects a return possibly after the Coppinger Tournament later this month.
At Bowen Field
Wyoming East................200 020 0 — 4 4 1
Bluefield..........................000 100 0 — 1 7 1
Thornton and Whitten. Lightfoot and Goins. W-Thornton, L-Lightfoot