WARDELL, Va. —
The more the pitches piled up, the stronger R.J. Bourne got.
"The last couple of innings I felt better than in the first couple of innings," Bourne said.
It was a good thing, at least for the Beavers.
"The Bluefield pitcher did an excellent job, he kept us off-balanced all day long," Richlands head coach Adam Davis said. "He started it and he finished it, he did a great job."
All the Bluefield junior did was throw 146 pitches in a complete game outing, scattering nine hits and striking out 10, and the Beavers stopped at Southwest Virginia Community College on their way back from a spring break trip to Gatlinburg and defeated Richlands 7-6 during a rare Friday afternoon matinee.
As bad as the Beavers wanted to get home, baseball came first.
"We haven't been home all week, we are on the bus, trying to get back home for the first time in the past week," Bourne said. "The first thing that came was playing the game because we needed to get the win because we struggled down there a little bit.
"We were competing down there. We had to get this win to finish out this week."
Bluefield, which lost three games in Tennessee, never trailed in this one, building a 7-2 lead with four runs on five hits in the top of the sixth. That proved to be enough. Barely.
"We need more runs because when they come up you don't know what is going to happen," Bourne said. "Anything can happen in baseball, you never know what to expect."
He was right, as the Blue Tornado answered with four runs on four hits in the bottom of the sixth to pull within 7-6. Still, Bluefield head coach Justin Gilbert never made a move to replace Bourne, who worked high into counts, walked five and hit two batters, but never had any desire to leave the mound.
"The tank was low, there was no doubt about it, we have had 28 innings in the last three days...", Gilbert said. "It was just a situation where we felt best with him.
"We had some other guys we knew could give us some innings. Every inning, he kept saying 'I am all right, I am feeling good, I want the next one' and he wanted it."
After River Michaels retired the Beavers in order in the seventh, the Blue Tornado got runners on first and second with one out in their final at-bat on an error and hit-batsman.
"You just have to shake it off," Bourne said. "As a pitcher you just have to stay focused and you know you can't lose them because if I just locate one pitch right down the middle anything can happen. I knew I had to keep the runners on second and first."
Bourne then had to face the top of Richlands' lineup, and promptly struck out Ben Brown for the fourth time in the game, and followed by retiring Matt Justus on strikes. All Justus had done prior to then was collect three hits, a walk and score three runs.
"It was tough for me because it was the top of the lineup, I was a little nervous, but I stuck through it," Bourne said. "I wasn't really paying attention to who it was. I just knew I had to locate it where they couldn't hit at it and keep the ball a little bit low."
Bluefield was led at the plate by Trevor Mullins, who reached base four times on a double, two singles and a walk. He also scored two runs, and drove in two, including an RBI single in the first to score Bourne for a 1-0 lead.
Justin Lightfoot, who also reached four times with the same double, two singles and a walk, drove in Mullins with a single in the third for the 2-0 lead, and drove in what proved to be the winning run in the sixth with a double, bringing in Mullins.
Bourne was also productive at the plate with a single and a two-run double in the four-run sixth.
"We knew when we went on this trip we would deal with a lot of adversity, a lot of situations that put you under a lot of pressure," Gilbert said. "We played 18 out of 21 good innings in Tennessee, that one inning each game hurt us.
"Hopefully we learned from it because we knew today when it was 3-2 that you can't sit on that and hope for the best. I am glad the guys came through because we needed every it of it."
Richlands pulled within a run in the third when Justus singled and scored on an fielding error in left field. Both teams scored again in the fifth, with Bourne reaching on an error and scoring on a double by Mullins, and the Blue Tornado pulled within 3-2 on back-to-back doubles by Justus and Michaels.
"They was hitting the ball, we was hitting the ball," Bourne said. "We made some good plays. We just played a good game."
Bluefield finally got that big inning against Michaels, who was Richlands' third pitcher in the game. The Beavers sent nine batters to the plate, with the key hits being a two-run double by Bourne and RBI double from Lightfoot. Marcus Santoro, who finished with two hits, had a double and scored a run in the frame.
"We know Bluefield is a great hitting team," Davis said. "We kept them off-balanced for the first couple of innings and we knew they were going to get a big inning. We just had to minimize the damage and I thought we did and we battled back."
Richlands scored four runs on their own on four hits and two walks, with Brown and Zach Johnson providing RBI singles and Justus plating two more with a single to pull the Blues within one.
Bourne, who is the quarterback for the Bluefield football team, showed those leadership skills by staying in the game to the end, despite a mounting pitch count.
"My arm has been tired for the last couple of days, we went down on a trip and played a couple of games down there and I pitched one game, " Bourne said. "It was just tiring because we had a long trip coming back from Tennessee, but I think we did pretty good."
"There is a point you worry about a kid because they are teenagers, but he just had that look that he wanted to stay in," added Gilbert. "We just went with our gut on this one, it really worked out, I couldn't be more proud of them."
Bluefield (7-8) will host Independence on Monday and visit Tazewell on Wednesday, as the baseball season in West Virginia quickly approaches tournament time.
"It is always busy. Unfortunately it seems like we are just now getting past the snow and there are only three weeks left in the West Virginia season," said Gilbert, whose Beavers had joined other Mercer County schools in taking spring trips to Myrtle Beach in recent years.. "It flies by, the kids have worked hard, the last few years we haven't fared too well in these trips, and it was good to come home on a win...
"Some years we have went to Myrtle and I don't know if it did pay off, but we enjoyed this trip. It was a good trip, great baseball in that part of Tennessee and it showed today that we learned something."
Richlands (4-6) returned to the diamond for the first time since losing to Tazewell last Saturday in the Coppinger Invitational finals. Up next for the Blue Tornado is a visit from those same Bulldogs on Tuesday.
"Every time we play Tazewell it is a huge game and we have got them here," said Davis, whose Blues hadn't seen live pitching in nearly a week. "We have got to get a win here at home."
— Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @bdtwoodson.
at Southwest Virginia Community College
Bluefield...........................101 014 0 — 7 12 2
Richlands...........................001 014 0 — 6 8 2
R.J. Bourne and Randy Maxey. Trent Davis, Jay Harrison (4), River Michaels (5) and Dylan Leforce. W-Bourne; L-Michaels. HR-none.
WARDELL, Va. —
The more the pitches piled up, the stronger R.J. Bourne got.
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