By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Noah could not keep the rain from messing with his plans on Saturday morning.
Oak Hill sophomore pitcher Noah Miller recovered from a shaky start and his Red Devils teammates backed him up with nine runs, but off-and-on rain at Bowen Field eventually forced their game with Bluefield to be suspended.
The Red Devils led 9-4 in the top half of the fourth inning when the game was halted due to slick conditions on the pitching mound and around home plate.
The game will be resumed “at a later date,” the coaches said, in combination with another seven-inning game between the Beavers and their familiar opponents from Fayette County.
The start time had been pushed back to 11 a.m., but the action began even before that in an effort to miss the bulk of the rain.
Bluefield’s first three batters, Devon Goins, Marcus Santoro and R.J. Bourne, all got singles off Miller. Justin Lightfoot’s sacrifice fly to center field brought home the game’s first run and Randy Maxey doubled to left to give the Beavers a quick 3-0 lead.
Oak Hill caught fire in the second inning after a potential Bluefield double play was not quite in time at first base for the third out.
The Red Devils proceeded to load the bases, and Daniel Pritt’s long double to center field brought the three teammates home to highlight a six-run inning.
Dominick Buzzo drew a walk to begin the Bluefield second inning, and R.J. Bourne brought him to the plate with an infield hit with two outs to trim the margin to 6-4.
Bluefield’s Trevor Mullins initiated a 6-3 double play to help the Beavers get out of the scoreless third inning, and Miller and Oak Hill sat down their hosts in order in the bottom half.
Oak Hill’s new head coach Chad Quesenberry said about Miller, “Noah’s a battler. He’s got good velocity, struggles with his breaking ball sometimes, but he’s a competitor.
“He didn’t get rattled, he settled in. Actually, after the first inning, he came in and said, ‘I figured something out. I was doing this, I was doing that.’ And that was it. He’s a ball gamer.”
Miller said, “I kept getting behind in the counts in the first inning. They were sitting fastball on me. I just had to keep my head up and get out of that first inning.
“Once I started getting my off-speed stuff over the plate and getting ahead in the counts, it all worked itself out. I started getting some outs.”
Maxey, the Bluefield starter, unintentionally hit Richard Epperly in the back of his batting helmet in the fourth, and Austin Harler and Corey Comer followed with back-to-back doubles.
Justin Carter took over on the mound but both Harler and Comer scored as the rain picked up. The home plate umpire then sent the players off the field.
They returned only long enough to shake hands with their opponents. Umpires, coaches and players stared at the rain-slick and chopped-up top of the pitcher’s mound during the rain delay, and the umps and coaches made the joint decision to call it off for the day.
As the teams left their dugouts and headed for the gates, a couple of peeks of sunshine appeared. “Wouldn’t you know it,” said a Bluefield player.
Bluefield was back in action about 13 hours after seeing a 7-5 lead turn into an 8-7 loss at James Monroe on Friday evening.
“We blew one late last night at James Monroe, so we wanted to get back out here and get that feeling out of our minds,” said Bluefield head coach Justin Gilbert.
“We needed to play. We’re working hard right now, but we’re trying to put all the three facets of the game (together). We haven’t been too successful with that, the last two or three outings out.
“We just wanted to get out here and play. There’s nothing going to fix it but to get out here and to get more at-bats and get into more learning situations.”
“We’ve been jumping on teams early with runs, and then we sort of go in cruise control. We’ve got to have that focus every inning. ... It’s early. We’re getting there, and we’ll be there. It’s just a tedious process right now.”
Gilbert said about the Red Devils, “It’s always a hitting team. I want to play tough competition. ... Our kids need to be put out there with the best competition, and that’s what I try to do for them.”
Quesenberry said, “Our kids got up and we hit at 7 o’clock this morning. My guys are pretty dedicated. We kept an eye on the forecast, and we thought we had a (rain-free) window, and we did ... but the mound conditions just really got us.”
He said, “We’ve got a young bunch. We’ve got a bunch of sophomores, a couple of juniors, but even the older guys that I’ve got are young in experience. It means a lot to us to get out and jump out early.”
“We came out, really in the first inning, and pounded the ball. It was big for us. Coach Gilbert always has a good team, so you knew you’re in for a fight.”
Miller said he put the weather conditions out of his mind. “The mound was sloppy today, but you can’t let that get to you. You’ve got to go out there and play your game and get outs. That’s your goal.”
Bluefield had planned to play a doubleheader game with PikeView, but called that off early Saturday morning. The Beavers host Fort Chiswell at 5 p.m. Monday, while at the same time Oak Hill hosts Princeton.
“We’ve got a full week next week,” Quesenberry said. “Those boys are always ready to play.”
Asked about the Red Devils’ prospects, Miller said, “We have a very high potential. We start a lot of young kids. ... The ceiling on this team is how far we make it. It’s all up to us, how far we want to go.”
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org