By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The hunted became the hunters.
The Richlands Blue Tornado faced the Liberty Raiders, winners of 17 of their first 18 games, on Tuesday night in the 40th Coppinger Invitational Baseball Tournament at Bowen Field.
In front of a small but animated crowd, the Blues came back from a 5-0 deficit to win 7-6 on a bases-loaded walk by freshman Brandon Waldron in the bottom of the seventh.
“It took a lot of resiliency,” said Richlands (2-4) head coach Adam Davis. “But resiliency was our thing today — just battling back, never panicking, and staying the course for the whole game.”
“I wanted to drive in the last run,” Waldron said. “I had to overcome a lot of nerves, being a freshman on the team ... but I think our team did great.”
The Raiders (17-2) were in control in the early innings. A two-out Richlands error, the second of six by the Blues, allowed two runs to score and Liberty led 3-0 after the first. In the third, Jake Lacek and Meechie Brown hit back-to-back RBI singles for a 5-0 lead.
That changed in the fourth. Richlands relief pitcher Andy Guerrero sat down the Raiders in order, and his team smacked four straight hits in the bottom half of the inning. Ben Brown’s double to right drove in two runs, Waldron’s single plated two more, and the tying run scored on a forceout.
Liberty coach J.J. Tabor said, “We had two hitters 0-2, and we threw two pitches too good, and they had 0-2 base hits. You can’t have that.”
Davis said, “The fourth inning, I challenged the kids ... to make a comeback and get back in the game, and they accepted that challenge and they (did) a great job of getting hits and producing runs.”
Guerrero allowed one hit in four innings, helped by an acrobatic catch by Brown to end the top of the sixth.
“I just went out there and threw,” Guerrero said. “I wasn’t really worried about them (Liberty). I knew we would come back.” He did allow that the Blues’ five-run inning “got me in a better mood.”
Davis said, “Andy’s a senior, and Andy’s got a lot of off-speed stuff. He keeps the hitters off balance. Liberty-Raleigh, they can absolutely crush the ball. They hit the ball really well.
“But I have to say, too, my first pitcher, River Michaels, did an excellent job those first three innings. We just didn’t make the plays for him there in the first couple of innings.”
Liberty senior Joey Lacek took the mound in the sixth and gave up a double to Waldron that scored Chad Lester to give Richlands a 6-5 lead.
The Raiders tied it again in the seventh. Matthew Bailey walked, and advanced to home when Brown made three errors at shortstop, all with two outs.
Davis said, “We made some errors in the first inning. We made some errors that normally we don’t make: shortstop Ben Brown, he’s normally a solid shortstop, and he bobbled a couple of balls today.”
Brown singled with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Lacek walked the bases loaded and was replaced as pitcher by Liberty second baseman Colten Taylor.
Waldron said, “I could tell he was a little bit nervous. I mean, I would be. But I figured he would be a little bit wild, coming straight in out of the infield and not being able to warm up in a proper amount of time.”
Taylor walked Waldron on five pitches and Brown crossed the plate as Richlands began its celebration.
Tabor said, “That other loss we had against Valley Fayette, we had an 8-0 lead. We kind of jump on people and then sit back and let them get back in the game. I’ve been preaching that all year, and it’s cost us again.”
“That club over there is a good ball club. They hit the ball well, probably the best-hitting team we’ve seen all year. Some mental things here and there — that’s the way it goes.”
“They pounded the ball tonight and they deserved to win.”
Richlands will host Marion at 5 p.m. Friday in a Southwest District contest. Liberty hosts Independence today and Westside on Thursday.
Davis said, “Those district games are extremely important. This is a good game to build upon to go into Friday against Marion.”
The first-year Richlands coach said about the Coppinger, “This is a great tournament to be at. ... I’m just glad that we get to come back up here and play again.”
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Bowen Field
Liberty...........................302 000 1 — 6 8 0
Richlands.....................000 501 1 — 7 13 6
Jordan Atkins, Joey Lacek (6), Colten Taylor (7) and Jake Lacek. River Michaels, Andy Guerrero (4) and Zach Yates. WP - Guerrero. LP - Taylor. Hitters: Lib — Dylan Keel 2-4; Jake Lacek 1-4, RBI; Mathew Bailey 1-3, RBI. RHS — Chad Lester, 2-3; Brandon Waldron, 2-3, 4 RBI.
Fayetteville 7, Nicholas County 4
The Fayetteville Pirates regained the lead with a two-run fourth inning and gradually pulled away from the Grizzlies in the first Coppinger game of Tuesday at Bowen Field.
Trey Phares picked up the win for Fayetteville (12-11), going six innings. Jake Holland led the Pirates at bat with a 2-for-4 day and a double, and Josh Long also doubled.
For Nicholas County (8-8), Brandon Hunter batted 2 for 3 and scored twice. He also came in as a relief pitcher in the fifth inning. Peyton Nowak doubled for the Grizzlies.
Fayetteville plays at Westside today and at Van on Friday before Saturday’s final day of the Coppinger. The Pirates will take on Richlands at about 2:30 p.m. in the tournament semifinals.
At Bowen Field
Fayetteville.....................001 220 2 — 7 9 1
Nicholas County............002 001 1 — 4 8 3
Trey Phares, Aaron Krice (7) and Krice, Jake Cogar (7). Etan Amide, Brandon Hunter (5) and Noah Bibb. WP - Phares. LP - Amide.