By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The air temperature was below freezing on Thursday afternoon and some snow still dappled the baseball field at PikeView High School.
Baseball practice still took place, in the warm school gymnasium, as the Panthers continued to be spurred on by thoughts of “what could have been” last spring.
Head coach Josh Wyatt said about the 2013 baseball season, “I’ve been looking forward to this since May 10 of last year.”
On that date, PikeView was on its home field leading Summers County 1-0 in a must-win sectional tournament game. One five-run inning by their neighbors to the north left PikeView on the wrong end of a 5-1 score, and trying to cope with the end of their season at 12-17.
“We’ve had a bad taste in our mouths since the end of last year,” Wyatt said. “Last year, we felt we had turned the corner and had a chance to do something special.”
The coach is pleased that 14 Panthers were able to play summer-league ball, “and we reinstated the travel program,” he said.
“We have a great group of kids who are dedicated to baseball,” he said. “This group of players, and the parents, have the same mentality that we do as coaches. What happened last year has motivated us.”
“We have to improve in some areas,” Wyatt said. “We’re fundamentally sound, but we have to pick up the speed of the game a little bit. That doesn’t mean to run faster on the bases or in the field, but just to quicken our ability to react in game situations.”
Now in his third year in charge of the diamond program, Wyatt said, “When I came in, I had five freshmen who played for me as freshmen. Now, they’re juniors.”
Pitching “is a bright spot,” Wyatt said. “We now have four kids able to start varsity baseball games. In addition to that, though, we have the pieces in place with a number of pitchers who can give us one or two innings of relief.”
The Panthers (2-0) have gotten in two games so far, with pitching and fielding playing key roles in a home doubleheader sweep of Fayetteville by scores of 4-3 and 2-1 on Friday. PikeView’s next three games were wiped out by weather.
Wyatt said, “Against Fayetteville, Kevin Cottle held them to three hits in the first game. Austin Cordell held them to four hits, with 14 strikeouts, in the second game.”
Catcher Hunter Moses, a three-year starter, “has been tremendous behind the plate,” Wyatt said. “Not many teams have been able to run on us. We’ve really progressed, I think, in holding players on base. … That may be one of the strengths of this team.”
The middle of the infield is solid with Greg Hogan at shortstop and Jordan Hardin at second base. “They’ve been with me for three years of varsity baseball,” Wyatt said.
The coach said that Zach Meadows is currently healing from an injury suffered during basketball season, “but he’ll return to one of the corner spots, third base or first base.”
Cordell will play at first base as well when he’s not pitching. Wyatt said, “He’s a tremendous ballplayer. The kid works. Every time Concord (University) has a camp, he’s there.”
The outfield will almost certainly feature three-year player Ryan Roberts “and a platoon of freshmen,” Wyatt said.
This year’s freshman class has “excellent baseball knowledge,” he said.
Overall, he said, “We can pitch it and catch it with the best of ‘em. What we have got to do, to get over the hump as a program, is to hit the ball and get on base.”
“One thing you can say for this group is, these kids push each other. They try to get the best out of each other. And that’s good.”
“These guys are so motivated, you have to run ‘em out of the (batting) cage,” he said. “They’re very dedicated. I think we’re poised to do great things.”
Unless the weather or field conditions derail their plans again, PikeView is scheduled to host Midland Trail this afternoon in Gardner, and will remain at home to play Liberty High at noon Saturday.
— Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com