By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
No more excuses at PikeView.
The PikeView baseball team was an extra inning loss at Independence from reaching the Class AA state tournament last season for the first time in school history.
Last year is now just a bad memory, but that doesn’t mean PikeView head coach Josh Wyatt hasn’t brought up what might have been.
“We use it often, it is in the back of our minds, we want to remember that feeling, remember that hurt that we had afterwards,” said Wyatt, whose Panthers dropped a 4-3 eight-inning decision at Coal City that took two days to complete. “This is not a negative comment about last year’s team because it is the same team this year, but we have addressed it in the offseason.
“We were a team full of excuses, we were younger. When things didn’t go our way, even me included, we were ready to jump and blame somebody else. We are taking the approach this year that excuses don’t bring home championships.”
It is the state championship that PikeView wants in June, but up first is the Coppinger Invitational, with the Panthers playing Tazewell today at Bowen Field, with the winner advancing to Wednesday’s semifinals.
“The Coppinger is prestigious and it is something that we want, but most importantly, it sets you tournament-wise,” said Wyatt, whose Panthers will participate in the Mingo Bay Classic beginning on April 14 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “It gives you that tournament atmosphere, and it throws us right back into another tournament at the beach...
“With this Coppinger, if we don’t bring the offense right off the bat one pitcher can shut you down. I wish we were playing it this week, we are playing good ball right now.”
While PikeView reached the Coppinger semifinals last season, the best showing ever by the school, Tazewell is looking for its ninth Coppinger title.
“We have got Tazewell right off the bat,” said Wyatt, whose Panthers have improved from 9 to 13 to 23 wins in his first three seasons at PikeView. “I think they have two of the last six (tourney titles) so you have got them sitting here playing strong here lately...
“This is a great tournament that is competitive and whoever is playing great ball at the time is going to come out on top.”
PikeView, which lost pitcher Kevin Cottle and shortstop Greg Hogan off last year’s 23-11 club, enters with a 7-3 record, with a team batting average of .374 and overall ERA of 2.46 through the first nine games.
All-state candidate — and there will be several on this team — Austin Cordell was hitting .555 with four doubles and 19 RBIs. Center fielder and leadoff batter Carter Shrewsbury was getting on base at a .610 clip, scoring 16 runs, drawing 11 walks and stealing six bases.
Hunter Moses (.400, 10 RBI) returns at catcher, while Cordell and Zach Meadows (.296, 4 doubles) alternate at first base. Jordan Hardin (.250, 8 runs), Jon Clark (.407, 10 runs) and Ben Boggess (.379, 8 RBI) see infield action, while Shrewsbury is joined in the outfield by Keian Lee (.333, 11 runs, 5 stolen bases) and Ryan Roberts (.289, 9 runs, .550 over last three games).
“When we get the bottom of the lineup going with the top,” said Wyatt, whose Panthers were ranked 10th in last week’s Class AA prep poll, having finished fifth last season, “it is a good thing.”
Adam Holdren (8 runs) and Billy Strickland are contributing as pinch-runners for the Panthers, who have improved in plate discipline, boasting a two walk-to-one strikeout ratio.
“Our goal right now is offensively, we realize defensively and pitching we are stable,” said Wyatt, who has a deep club, with as many as 15 players able to contribute on the varsity level. “We can pitch it and catch it with the best of them, we have to continue the way we are hitting the ball.
“Probably our most important goal this year is plate approach and cutting down on the strikeouts. We have been tremendously better in that aspect this year.”
While Cottle was a key loss for PikeView on the mound, the Panthers have plenty of options, including the righty-lefty combination of Meadows (3-0, 4.50) and Cordell (1-2, 3.42, 20 Ks), along with much improved Levi Nash (1-0, 1.11) and freshman surprise Jacob Harmon (2-0. 0.95).
“We have had the righties that may throw harder than anything we have got on the staff right now, but this is the deepest set of pitchers I ever had,” Wyatt said. “They are not out there just throwing the ball, they understand the game, they are around it a lot. They know how to pitch.”
Trusting the defense behind them is also crucial, and Wyatt feels that will be a strength for the Panthers, who have been victimized by the gloves in the past, including losses this year at Nitro and Liberty.
“That is our huge difference right now,” Wyatt said. “I think this team realizes we have got a lot of pitchers, as long as we catch and throw it good, we are going to win these ball games.”
That could mean at the Coppinger and perhaps even at Mingo Bay. Wyatt has credited much of PikeView’s success to that trip to Myrtle Beach, allowing his club to focus on baseball during spring break.
“Last year we wanted to win ball games (there),” said Wyatt, whose Panthers will return to South Carolina for a third straight year. “We were frustrated going down there not winning, we wanted to compete and we did that for five innings. Now we have realistic goals of going down there and winning ball games.”
And, not just there. PikeView, which has won two of the last three sectional titles, has big goals ahead, although both Bluefield and James Monroe will stand in the Panthers’ way of advancing to Charleston when sectional play begins in May.
“That is obviously our goal. If I was sitting here and telling you to win the sectional or regional is our goal, that is not,” Wyatt said. “Obviously that is no disrespect to anybody we are playing.
“Independence beat us last year in regionals and Bluefield and James Monroe beat us last year in regular season, and both of those teams have everything back. I have seen Bluefield’s stuff too. That is their goal too, to go to the state tournament.”
PikeView was, oh so close, to getting there last season, and Wyatt has already used that heart-breaking loss to Independence as motivation this year, with his Panthers tied with Princeton going into the eighth inning last month.
“They came off the field (in the seventh), and I said we have one thing here, you have got to channel that Independence game, that feeling, and know what that feeling is like,” said Wyatt, whose Panthers responded with eight runs to win 11-4. “Remember if we leave here losing this ball game, it is an excuse and that is all we have.
“We don’t want excuses, we want championships.”
— Contact Brian Woodson