BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Two steps forward instead of two steps back helped spark the Bluefield Beavers to a season-opening win over archrival Graham on a cold, windy Thursday evening at Sizemore Field.
Christian Oster gave the Beavers an early edge, slapping a bases-loaded line drive to center field. Graham’s Jacob Britton reacted to the ball, realized his mistake, but it was too late.
By the time Oster stopped running, he had crossed the plate for a grand slam and a 7-2 lead. Bluefield would add plenty more to defeat the G-Men 15-5 in a game called after five innings by the 10-run mercy rule.
“Probably, if anything, that was the spark for us,” Bluefield head coach Justin Gilbert said. “It was a 3-3 game coming into that, he hits that and hustles his self around the bases and makes it with no play at home.
“That was sort of the spark. Really I think at that point it sort of lifted us and sort of worked against Graham in a way, and sort of strung us along to go with what we did.”
“Bluefield (1-0) collected 11 hits off three Graham pitchers, led by Oster, who added a single to finish with five run batted in. Tyler Brooks had two doubles, a walk and scored three runs, Marcus Santoro added two hits, including a triple, two runs and two RBIs, and Randy Maxey had two hits, drove in two runs and scored twice.
Not a bad start to the season for the Beavers and for Gilbert, a graduate of Graham, and a former baseball assistant with the G-Men.
“You could tell in a lot of aspects tonight it was the first game of the season, but there was a lot of positives,” Gilbert said. “I thought we hit the ball well. We have got to shore up some spots in some situations in the field, but for your first game out, chilly conditions...
“Anytime you play Graham there is always a little bit of nerves. When I coached here with Coach (Morgan) Campbell, it didn’t matter if Bluefield and Graham were playing anything, it will be competitive, it brings out a little bit of an edge in the guys.”
Graham (0-2), which actually led 2-1 after the first inning, was hampered by three costly errors and the key misplay in center field, which followed two days after a 10-5 loss at Giles that saw the G-Men commit six miscues in the field, and also allow a grand slam.
“That changed the complexion of the game,” said Graham head coach Matt Dixon, of the Oster shot that was played into that grand slam. “That is what I just told the guys, that has hurt us the last two games.
“The routine plays, those are routine plays that have to be made to help your pitchers out. The game is a lot easier when you make the routine plays. We are going to have to find a way to get some guys in positions to help us out and make the routine plays.”
Bluefield took a 1-0 lead on an RBI single in the first by Justin Lightfoot, and the G-Men answered with two of their own against Trevor Mullins, including a bases-loaded walk drawn by Jacob Coffey and an infield single from Blake Boone, but Mullins was able to strand the bases full with a trio of strikeouts.
“I was proud of them, there in the first inning we got ourselves in some issues, but we managed to get out of that with only two runs allowed,” Gilbert said. “I think that was the difference, we kept the damage at bay. We bowed our heads and came back out and put some runs on the board.”
A lot of runs, led by Oster, who keyed a six-run outburst started by a Graham error with a shot to center field off G-Men starter Ben Meade that rolled to the fence to build the lead to 7-2.
“Christian made solid contact, the only thing we did get a lucky about is the center fielder took two steps in instead of two steps back,” Gilbert said. “I give him credit, he made good contact, hustled around the bases and I am proud of him.”
Dixon, who led Graham to the Group 2A state championship in golf last fall, saw his G-Men victimized by six more runs in the third, keyed by a two-run single by Maxey and a dropped fly ball to right field.
“We are definitely going to have to switch some guys around a little,” Dixon said. “We were hoping some people would step up. Obviously we will have to make some changes here or there for some guys who will get in there and compete and make routine plays because that is the game.”
Graham managed four hits off Mullins — who worked three innings for the win — and Lightfoot, paced by Dakota Byrd, who came off the bench with an RBI double and a sacrifice fly to bring home another run.
“We are going to have to find a place for him,” Dixon said. “He stepped up, he came in and he was attacking the ball on defense so we are going to have to find a role for him...He did come in and he offered some energy for us today.”
Gilbert, whose Beavers also received three runs scored by Devin Goins, hasn’t tabbed Mullins as the staff ace, but Gilbert likes what he sees in his senior right-handed hurler.
“He has got a lot of baseball experience. I give a lot of credit to him, he never puts it down, he plays all summer, the kid just has a lot of baseball in him and he is a battler,” said Gilbert, whose Beavers travel today to Blacksburg. “That is one thing, he wants the ball, I give him credit, he is just a hard worker for us and this is a game he wanted to throw in.
“Everybody was on a pitch count and everything just sort of balanced itself out for us to use a couple of guys tonight and not have to overdo anybody.”
Graham, which has struggled on the diamond for years, will try to regroup on Tuesday with a rematch against Giles.
“We have got a better team and they know there is no time to waste,” Dixon said. “We have got older kids, it is a little frustrating with us making the same mistakes over and over the last couple of years, especially with a group that has played for so long.
“I think as the season goes on we will get better and we will improve. Hopefully the weather turns and it will get a bit nicer and we can get some things going here.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com
at Sizemore Field
Bluefield..........................166 20 — 15 11 2
Graham............................202 01 — 5 4 3
Trevor Mullins, Justin Lightfoot (4) and Randy Maxey. Ben Meade, McKinley Webb (2), Tommy Lovell (4) and Blake Boone. W—Mullins; L—Meade. HR—Christian Oster (B), 2nd 3 on.