By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Among the many accomplishments for Princeton baseball in 2012 was capturing the Coppinger Invitational.
Chris Otey and the Tigers earned a right to make it back-to-back, defeating PikeView 5-2 in a semifinal contest on Saturday at Bowen Field.
“We are looking forward to it,” Otey said. “We are going to give it our all and try our best to bring home the championship again.”
Princeton (13-7), defeated Chilhowie — which finished as the Division 2 state runner-up in Virginia last June — 21-2 in the finals last April.
Otey was expecting a tough test from Richlands later on Saturday.
“I expect it to be tougher,” said Otey, one of two returning starters from last year’s state championship team. “We are going to play as hard as we can and never underestimate anyone.
“We are just going to give them the best game we can possibly give them.”
Princeton, a four-time winner of the Coppinger, was able to take an early 2-0 lead, watched PikeView narrow the margin to 3-2 in the fourth, and then added two more runs to secure the win.
“This has been one of our goals all year,” Princeton head coach Josh Wilburn said. “Every year when we come in we definitely want to win the Coppinger here in our back yard. That is just part of the few goals that we have.”
Otey had two singles, was hit by a pitch and clubbed a sacrifice fly in the first, driving in two runs and scoring a run, as his stroke at the plate appears to be back.
“I have not been real pleased, I was struggling at the beginning of the year trying to make some mechanical changes, but now I am getting back comfortable and feeling good at the plate,” Otey said. “Hopefully I will keep hitting the ball like I was in this game.”
PikeView (16-8), which had won nine in a row before a nine-inning loss to James Monroe on Friday, expects to be back in a similar position in the future after reaching the semifinals with wins over River View and Tazewell.
“I think we are going to be a mainstay in this Coppinger,” PikeView head coach Josh Wyatt said. “We are going to put a lot of pressure on people over the next couple of years and try to come away with one of these things eventually.”
There is reason for that optimism, with PikeView starting three freshmen and a sophomore.
“A lot of coaches will come out here and talk about young kids, young kids, young kids,’ Wyatt said. “Well, we have young kids who play, that is on us to develop them and make sure they are ready to get out there.”
Princeton came into the game with a game plan, to work deep into counts and to be aggressive on the basepaths. Both worked, as the Tigers made PikeView pitcher Zach Meadows to throw 46 pitches in the opening two innings, and Princeton also swiped five bases to score two in the first and one in the second.
“That was part of our game plan, put pressure on the catcher to throw us out and also to be patient at the plate and make them throw as many pitches as possible,” Wilburn said.
Bryson Allen led off the game with a single, Andrew Wilson was hit by a pitch, and both runners moved up on stolen bases. Ian Southcott drove in one with a ground ball to short, and Otey later hit a long fly ball to the warning track in left for the 2-0 lead.
PikeView cut the margin in half in the bottom of the first when Jordan Hardin drew a one-out walk, and eventually scored on a single by Meadows in another close game for the Panthers.
“We have been winning a lot of ball games here lately, but that is our main struggle right now,” Wyatt said. “We can’t separate ourselves and go to that next level by getting runners in. We are playing a lot of close games.”
Princeton added a run in the third, with Will Hickman singling, stealing second and scoring on a single by Brett Wall, who joined Otey with a pair of hits.
Meanwhile, Addison Wood — who allowed just four hits and struck out five — was able to work out of work out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the fourth, and finished off three innings with runners on base with strikeouts.
“That is something we don’t really preach for him to do to feel like he has to rare back and throw hard because we have a good defense,” Wilburn said. “We are going to make mistakes just like every team, but we have a good defense...
“He pitched a great game, it is a good win, but we could have done a lot better.”
Wilburn, whose Tigers defeated Oak Hill 11-3 on Friday, was able to save his ace, Bo Williams, to pitch in the Coppinger title game.
“We spread out our pitching this week preparing for it, we knew we had two tough ball games...,” Wilburn said. “It is a lot of bragging rights for us to win this and it is exciting to win a tournament in your back yard and we are just happy to advance and at least have an opportunity to play for it.”
PikeView, who had three errors in the field, did get runners on base, thanks to five walks and three Princeton errors, but other than an RBI ground out by Keian Lee in the fourth, the Panthers couldn’t get on the board.
“They are good at moving runners over and we hurt ourselves by putting some runners on without them working for it,” Wyatt said. “Earlier in the game we were falling behind and had to groove some pitches, but Zach does a good job of trusting his defense, and their hitters came up with some hits.
“I think that was the difference, we put runners on, we had bases loaded, one out, we get one run out of it.”
Princeton answered PikeView’s run in the fourth with two in the fifth. Southcott reached on an error, moved to second on a fly ball by Wood to center and scored on a single from Otey. Josh Perry followed with an opposite field double just inside the right field line for the final margin.
“They did a good job today, a few errors and a few little things that kind of didn’t make the game feel great,” Wilburn said, “but we won and we are able to advance and it gives us an opportunity to win it.”
Hardin replaced Meadows in the fifth and allowed just two hits and no runs in the final 2 2/3 innings.
“I wasn’t expecting to pitch him and he came to me and asked me if he could close it out,” Wyatt said. “That gives me goose bumps as a coach to have a kid coming up and asking for the ball and I thought he did a fantastic job coming in.”
Princeton, which was 6-6 before winning seven of eight, seems to be playing best as the postseason approaches, which is the way it is supposed to be.
“It has been kind of tough, at the beginning of the year we are still kind of meshing together as a team, but we have come together the past couple of months and have really gotten tighter,” Otey said. “Off the field stuff is just as important as on the field stuff, we have become tighter as a team.
“We are kind of feeling like a family now, we are playing behind each other really well and we’re trying to keep this going and get it to carry over into the tournaments.”
The Coppinger is the first of several tournaments on the horizon for the Tigers, who will begin Mountain State Athletic Conference tournament play this week.
Otey would like nothing better than another run at a state championship.
“I hope so, that is the big thing is playing right when it is needed,” Otey said. “I think everyone can do it, I have played with these guys for 10 years, I believe they can do it. They have shown me amazing things before, there is nothing they can’t do.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org
at Bowen Field
Princeton........................210 020 0 — 5 8 3
PikeView.........................100 100 0 — 2 4 3
Addison Wood and Josh Perry. Zach Meadows, Jordan Hardin (5) and Hunter Moses. W—Wood; L—Meadows. HR—none.