By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Justin Gilbert’s sixth season as baseball coach at Bluefield High School sees the Beavers in a reloading mode. The Beavers lost key seniors Andrew Siegel, Logan Lineberry and Justin Mariotti from the 2013 team, but Gilbert is optimistic about the future.
“Those guys are gone but we have good junior and sophomore classes coming up to fill those voids,” Gilbert said. “The seniors that we have, have really shown a lot of leadership and that’s one thing I value in a team. You have to have older guys to sort of hold everything in place, a sort of glue for everybody.”
One of the seniors Gilbert will turn to is Justin Lightfoot who will take his turns on the mound and at first base. Juniors Trevor Mullins, R.J. Bourne and Marcus Santoro are also key for Bluefield.
“Those are guys that have been in the program all their years. They know my expectations and they value baseball, which is a good thing,” Gilbert said. “I think a lot of time in this area spring sports sometimes gets overlooked and those guys sort of hold it true to baseball and we are glad to have them.”
Key for a baseball team at any level is pitching. Gilbert is not worried about his hurlers, but as any coach at any level, he believes a team can never have too many pitchers.
“In West Virginia when you play every other night, you feel like you don’t have enough arms. You really can’t have enough arms,” Gilbert commented. “We’ve got five guys that we can go to as starters — R.J. Bourne, Trevor Mullins, Justin Lightfoot, Justin Carter and Randy Maxey. Then we’ve got a couple of other guys, Tyler Brooks, a senior, and Devin Goins that we go to in spots.
“We feel like we have anywhere from five to seven guys that can give us some quality innings and we’re going to need that, especially as we start making up these rainouts and as we go down to Tennessee and play four games in four days.”
Bluefield’s spring break trip this year is to the Volunteer State where they will play four teams from that state. For several seasons the team has ventured to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for spring break.
Looking at the Beavers’ defense, a lot of positioning depends upon who is pitching, but Gilbert talked about his fielders.
“Right now we’re looking at R.J. Bourne at third base. He plays third and first depending on pitching. At shortstop we’ve been looking at Trevor Mullins and Devin Goins. At second we sort of platoon with Marcus Santoro and Dominic Buzzo and at first we primarily go with either R.J. or Justin (Lightfoot) depending on who pitched the night before. Randy Maxey does the bulk of our catching... Devin Goins fills in for us at the two spot when Randy is on the mound,” Gilbert said.
“In the outfield we are kind of getting our feel there. We’ve been looking at Tyler Brooks, Christian Oster and Bryan Morris, those three are seniors, in left. Devin (Goins) and Justin Carter in center and then in right field we have Jeremy Thompson who has come back from basketball.”
The Beavers are currently 3-4 this season. They won their opening game against Graham before losing four straight, to Blacksburg, Fort Chiswell, James Monroe and Honaker. The team’s last two outings have been wins over Mount View and Greater Beckley Christian.
“It’s been a little bit of tough sledding in the beginning,” Gilbert noted. “We had a very unsuccessful tour in Virginia starting off. I always like to go to Virginia in the beginning of the year because of weather. We had tough outings at Fort Chiswell, Honaker and Blacksburg and we’re sort of filling some spots, sort of getting the feel for it.”
Despite the losses, Gilbert, who played high school ball at Graham, believes those games are beneficial to the team.
“I love West Virginia baseball but sometimes I feel like when you start pushing toward that Roanoke area, that’s really where you start getting into some very traditional baseball programs,” Gilbert said. “I like going down there and playing because it sort of show us where we are not at and where we need to be and what we want to work for.”
The Beavers will face tough competition all season, ranging from county rivals PikeView and Princeton, to neighbors Tazewell and Richlands and regional foe Independence. The Beavers will play two games in a wooden bat tournament hosted by Independence late in the season. Five games have already been rained out and make-up dates are yet to be announced.
Helping Gilbert with the team this year are assistants Elijah Nichols, who is a student at Bluefield State College currently doing his student teaching, and Bob Shiflett, who joined the staff last season.
The BHS program has shown improvement each season since Gilbert took the helm. He praised the work ethic of the players and calls on the community to support the team as it goes forward.
“These kids play hard. They commit themselves six, seven months of the year. We’ve been at it since November. We shut it off when the season ends, give them a little bit of time and the kids are back in June,” Gilbert pointed out.
“I’d like more of the community to come out and watch these guys. We are in a football, basketball rich area, but we have a great facility. I’d like for baseball to be bigger than what it is and I’d like people to get more interested. I’d like them to come out and watch these guys. I love the game and I wish more people, especially in this area, would take an interest in this sport.”
The Beavers return to the diamond this evening as they take on Montcalm in a first round game in the Coppinger Invitational Tournament at Hunnicutt Field in Princeton. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.
— Contact Bob Redd at email@example.com.