By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Bluefield College baseball team met the challenge of making Bowen Field playable after a snowy week.
Coming back from an 8-0 deficit proved to be a challenge the Rams couldn’t quite overcome.
The Bears from the University of Pikeville cashed in on a seventh-inning insurance run and took a 9-8 win from Bluefield (7-11, 2-5 Mid-South Conference) on Saturday night, in the first game of the year at the venerable state-line ballpark.
“They kept plugging,” said Bluefield head coach Mike White. “We didn’t play very well at all, early, and got ourselves in that hole. If we make a couple of plays, I think tonight’s a lot different.
“But that’s baseball. UPike played hard. It was a fun game to watch.”
It was mostly fun for Pikeville (6-7, 1-0), which was playing its first conference game of the year after being sidelined by bad weather for almost two weeks.
First-year head coach Chad Gassman said, “We’re chompin’ at the bit to play. It’s good to be out here — and good to see how our guys responded after a 12-day layoff.”
The Bears started out with three straight singles off Bluefield starter Sean Williams. With help from Pat O’Brien’s two-RBI hit, Pikeville took a quick 3-0 lead.
In the next inning, with two outs, Eric Manning smacked a two-run single, and Bluefield followed that with a pair of errors to give the visitors their 8-0 lead.
Williams kept plugging. Immediately after those runs, he and the Rams defense sat down 14 Pikeville batters. That streak included five consecutive strikeouts.
“I think we came together as a team,” Williams said. “I think I just kind of found a groove and went with it ... consistently pounding the strike zone.”
White said, “Early, we kicked a couple of balls behind him, and he was elevated with some stuff. When we went from being a one-pitch guy to a two-pitch guy is when he had the 14 consecutive outs there.”
“That’s what we expect out of him, not what we got there early. He made a couple of mistakes, and to their credit, they swung it well enough to put some pressure on us.”
Pikeville’s Gassman said, “Their starter was impressive. He got better and better.”
Meanwhile, the Bluefield bats started producing runs. Chris Rosa and Jamie Blackwell led off with singles in the second, and Kaleb Long brought BC’s first run across with an RBI groundout. Blackwell scored on a fielder’s choice.
Zac Russell-Myers led off the third with a home run over right-center to produce an 8-3 score.
Kyle Long scored once and drove in three runs in the next two innings, via a triple and a single, to close the gap to 8-7.
White said, “The thing about Kyle is, he’s just a gamer. He loves to play and he’s going to come out and he’s going to play hard all the time, and that’s what we expect out of our guys. He does that, and it’s fun to see him have some success.”
Pikeville pushed across what turned out to be a crucial run in the seventh, when Corey Adams lofted a ball in between three Rams in shallow center field to score Bryan Bradley.
That half-inning ended contentiously. Bluefield made what appeared to be the third out with a toss from second baseman Christian Burton to first base. Gassman approached the umpire to claim fielder’s interference on his runner.
The out call was reversed, and White immediately took his turn to make his case with the officials. The two coaches stood side by side briefly while the refs talked.
The call was re-reversed, and the out went into the books.
Jacob White scored Bluefield’s last run in the eighth, getting from second base to the plate when Rosa lashed a two-out single into right field.
But the inning ended moments later when Pikeville’s Manning made a nice scoop of Blackwell’s hard-hit ball beside third base and fired the ball to first.
Bears relief pitcher Mike Rappazzo ended the ninth with two strikeouts sandwiched around a fly-out to left field.
“I thought Bluefield did a really, really good job of battling back,” Gassman said. “We were fortunate to get several runs there at the start.”
Williams, referring to Pikeville as “a quality team,” said, “I think we stole the momentum back from them.”
Wright was 2 for 4 for Bluefield and Kyle Long was 2 for 3 with three RBI. Williams ended with 11 strikeouts and one walk, allowing 10 hits.
Pikeville’s Andy Gumm was 2 for 3 and scored twice.
The Rams and Bears had not played baseball against each other for four years, but they will be seeing a lot more of each other as Mid-South opponents.
White said, “We’re looking to develop some new rivalries, and as close as we are, you’ve got to think that’s going to be one of them.”
Gassman said he was aware of the quality of Bluefield College’s baseball program.
“Coach White has done a great job. We knew they were going to be good, and they didn’t disappoint. They can swing the bats. We knew that. We’ve got a task tomorrow.”
The two teams battle again today starting at 1 p.m. at Bowen Field, in a doubleheader that will include a nine-inning contest and a seven-inning outing.
White said, “I really think we’ll play better. I mean, I can’t question any of the effort that we ran out there tonight, it’s just (that) we didn’t make some plays.
“And until we make 27 solid outs out there, we’re not going to be able to beat a lot of people. We’re beating ourselves more than people are beating us right now.”
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Bowen Field
Pikeville....................350 000 100 — 9 11 4
Bluefield...................021 310 010 — 8 13 2
Corey Gilligan, Mike Rappazzo (5) and Sean Ryan. Sean Williams, Taylor Marshall (7) and Kaleb Long. WP — Rappazzo. LP — Williams. HR — Russell-Myers, 3rd, 0 on.