With retired coach Lou Peery watching from a seat near his team’s dugout, the Tazewell Bulldogs defeated rival Richlands 7-3 Saturday evening at Bowen Field to claim their 10th Coppinger Tournament championship.
“It’s a rivalry game,” said Tazewell head coach Aaron Buchanan. “Our goal is to compete every day, but it’s nice to get that win. We’ve been talking about it, and talking about bringing that trophy home this year.”
“This makes 10 for us — a good round number.”
Brett Jones, who has been working his way back from an arm problem dating to last season, pitched all seven innings for Tazewell in his first outing of 2014.
He struck out six batters and allowed six hits, walking one batter and hitting one with a pitch.
“He came out and dug deep and did a great job today,” Buchanan said. “We played decent defense, but we put the ball in play and made good things happen.”
He said Jones was his No. 1 pitcher “right now,” and the decision to start him in the Coppinger championship was an easy one. “We’re here to win it. That was the thought process here today,” Buchanan said.
Jones said winning the Coppinger championship was “an honor, for sure.” He added, “It was definitely a great win. Any win’s good, but over Richlands, it feels good.”
Tazewell catcher Chase Illig said, “He (Jones) went out there, threw strikes, threw well. His breaking ball was working well; it helped him out.”
The Blue Tornado (4-5), last year’s Coppinger champion, got the game’s first run. Trent Davis led off the second inning with a triple to right, and scored when Patrick Jackson chopped a single way over the head of Tazewell shortstop Brody Dean.
Tazewell (5-1) answered in the bottom half of the second, as four of its first five batters scored. Chase Illig brought two runs home with his second single of the night.
It occurred just after a close play at third base where the runner slid in safely.
Davis said, “We felt that that second inning right there was big, because we felt that we had a runner thrown out, there at third base. The umpire called him safe. The umpires did a great job.”
“That play right there, we felt like, made a big difference in the game. They ended up scoring a couple of more runs ... . I’m not saying that we still could have won the game or not, but it could have been closer and the momentum swing could have been different.”
Buchanan said, “We got up early, and when they (Richlands) get down, when most teams get down, they struggle, they stress a little bit. I think Richlands stressed a little bit, but Brett did a good job keeping them off balance, and we played good solid defense behind him.”
Illig was 2 for 3 with two runs batted in and a walk. He was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said about that honor. “I was able to help my team out behind the plate, blocking balls, throwing a few guys out, and I got big hits when we needed them.”
Buchanan, his coach, said, “Chase did a good job. He did a great job behind the plate for us, and he swung the stick very well. He deserved it. But every one of them deserved MVP. They played well this tournament.”
Illig said about his team, “Everyone stayed up, everyone got base hits, bench players stayed in their roles. ... Everyone played good.”
Jones said, “We played as one, which (is a motto) we go by. One team, one dream.”
Jones had a sacrifice squeeze bunt to bring home the first run of the sixth inning, after leadoff man Colin Hancock drew a base on balls and stole his way around to third.
The last run of the 2014 Coppinger was scored in the seventh by Richlands pinch hitter Austin Carter, who tripled and got to the plate on an infield groundout by senior Ben Brown.
Brown scored in the third and singled in the fifth but was stranded on second base.
Davis said, “When Benny gets on, normally, he scores. For us to be a really good ballclub and a competitive ballclub, we have to depend on Benny to get on.”
Brown also pitched into the fourth inning, tossing 79 balls and giving up seven hits and five runs, walking two and striking out four.
Trent Davis allowed no hits and no runs in 1 2/3 innings of relief, and Jay Harrison finished out the sixth on the mound. Richlands made double plays to end the Tazewell second and third innings.
Matt Justus was 2 for 4 at bat for Richlands and made the all-tournament team.
“We came in and fought hard, just came through adversity and tried to battle back, but it just didn’t work out for us,” he said.
Richlands will “have a better tournament next year,” he said. “I’m a junior. I’ll be here next year.”
Davis, in his second year as Richlands head coach, said about the Tornado’s path to the Coppinger finale, “We played a great Princeton team, the game before. We won a tight game there, and played a really good Fayetteville team, too, before them.
“I was excited just to get to play in this championship game tonight.”
It was the second game of the day for Tazewell, which played the Miller School at Lou Peery Field on Saturday afternoon. Their coach got them focused for the unique second half of the day’s doubleheader.
Buchanan said, “We had a team meeting after our first game this morning and talked about where we wanted to be. We competed this morning; that’s where I wanted them to be. Then this afternoon, we came out and finished the job.”
Illig said Saturday’s results will “be a nice jump for the rest of the season.”
“It’s always a tough game when you play Richlands, no matter what the talent level is,” he said. “Adam Davis, he does a great job with the team. He’s a little short-handed this year, but it’s a well-coached team.”
The all-Coppinger Tournament team, other than Illig, consisted of Tazewell’s Dean and Jones; Richlands’ Justus and Brown; Princeton’s Addison Wood and Ian Southcott; and Bluefield’s Randy Maxey and R.J. Bourne.
The Blue Tornado will host Sullivan East (Tenn.) at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The Bulldogs will greet the Graham G-Men at Lou Peery Field at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Bowen Field
Richlands...................011 000 1 — 3 6 3
Tazewell.....................040 101 x — 7 7 4
Ben Brown, Trent Davis (4), Jay Harrison (6) and Dylan Laforce. Brett Jones and Chase Illig.