Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 30, 2012

2012 Year in review: Changes and championships

Staff reports
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Athletes wearing a rainbow of colors, representing schools large and small, arrayed on fields, courts and tracks, competed for championships and for the love of their sports in the past 12 months.

The governing councils to which some of those schools belong were tossed by upheaval in that same time period.

In short, there was no shortage of big sports headlines in 2012. However, while reviewing the year, the Daily Telegraph sports staff was unanimous in its choice of the year’s biggest story.

Princeton Senior High School’s baseball team did something in June that no other set of diamond-dwellers had done in the long history of the school — winning the state baseball championship in Class AAA.

Under the leadership of coach Josh Wilburn, the Tigers reached the state tournament for the second time in three years. In six postseason games, Princeton scored 53 runs and allowed nine.

Princeton trailed Nitro 4-0 in the fifth inning of the title game, but scored six runs in the sixth and beat the Wildcats 7-4 on the artificial turf of Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.

Among the crowd estimated to exceed 5,000, the many PSHS fans roared with approval.

“It was the fans, they kept us up the whole time,” catcher Corey Quick said. “They helped us to win, the student section was there, we knew we weren’t going to lose.”

Nitro had beaten Princeton 3-2 in the 2010 state semifinals.

The 2012 championship game had been scheduled for a day earlier, but bad weather caused the game to be rescheduled for Sunday, June 3.

The Tigers, who had nine seniors on the roster, concluded the season 26-8, winning the Coppinger Invitational Tournament in Bluefield on their way to the postseason.

It was particularly sweet for a team considered to be “the Rodney Dangerfield of the baseball teams still playing in Charleston” in June — they got no respect.

“It is something we have never done in our school’s history,” senior J.J. McPherson said. “It is our first state championship in a team sport in 31 years so it feels pretty good.”

“It is good to be the underdog and we came through,” Quick said. “We worked extremely hard.”

“This is something I will never forget,” said senior Seth Rose.

J.C. Pennington was the starting pitcher in both the semifinal and final game. Alex Quick picked up the pitching win in the championship, and Seth Rose hit Princeton’s only home run, a solo shot in the fifth.

The other top stories of the calendar year follow.

PikeView girls make state-ments

Four girls teams from PikeView High School reached the state level of competition — the soccer program, the basketball team, the volleyball squad and the cross-country runners.

The soccer girls competed in the state tournament for the third time in four years. They beat a very good Pocahontas County team 3-2 to advance to states, where they fell 2-1 to Fairmont Senior in the semifinals.

The Panthers hold the unofficial state record for goals scored in a season with 130.

Coach Sam Hill was named the high school coach of the year by both by the state soccer coaches association and by the National Federation of High Schools. His record at PVHS is 91-28-12.

Laura Hill, PikeView’s all-time scoring leader with 115 goals in her high school career, was named to The National Soccer Coaches Association of America High School Scholar All-America Team and captained the Class AA-A all-state first team.

The hoops squad beat perennial power Summers County 54-51 to win the sectional championship, and got to the state semifinals before losing to Scott High School 57-30 at the Charleston Civic Center. It was the farthest a PikeView girls team had gone in the state tourney.

“It feels good to make history,” senior Danielle Compton said. “We always played tough and played hard.”

Basketball coach Karen Miller was named the Pocahontas Coal Association-Bluefield Daily Telegraph girls coach of the year at the annual banquet after the season.

The volleyball team took big sectional and regional victories over James Monroe and Independence High to earn their ticket to the Civic Center in November — a first for the volleyball program.

The Panthers completed a 24-19-1 season with a 25-19, 25-15, 25-22 loss to Ritchie County in the first round. Holly Mack finished her scholastic career with more than 1,000 assists.

The cross country team hosted the Region III meet in Gardner and placed four girls in the top nine to win the team championship. Katelyn Odle was the Panthers’ top finisher, in third place at 23:24. She also had PikeView’s best time in the state meet, 21:41.

PikeView finished 11th in the Class AA-A competition in Ona.

Coach Jonathan Yost said, “We’ve worked hard this season.” He said the state meet was preparation for what he expects to be more successful trips to come.  “We’re young,” he said, “so I just want them to go out there and have a good time, get the experience.”

Beavers tugged in title game

Bluefield High School’s boys basketball team added another chapter to its tradition-rich history by reaching the state title game in March at the Charleston Civic Center.

The Beavers earned the top seed in the Class AA state tournament in March and was No. 1 in the state poll. Reaching the state level for the first time since 2008, Bluefield dispatched Berkeley Springs and Tolsia en route to the championship contest with Tug Valley.

Bluefield never led against the Panthers from Mingo County, but scrambled back from an 0-for-9 shooting start and a 15-2 deficit to cut the lead to a single point twice before taking a 58-52 loss.

Anthony Eades, who scored all 14 of Bluefield’s third-quarter points, was later made a first-team all-state selection. Lykel Collier was captain of the second team, and was chosen the Pocahontas Coal Association-Bluefield Daily Telegraph (PCA-BDT) player of the year. Michael Yost was honorable mention in all-state balloting.

Coach Buster Large said after the game, “You might lose, but as far as myself and the coaching staff and Bluefield High School program is concerned, they can walk out of here very, very proud today. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Large was named the PCA-BDT boys basketball coach of the year.

WVIAC breaks up

After 88 years, the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference began to unravel  on June 18 with the announcement by nine member schools that they would bolt the league in mid-2013 and create a new NCAA Division II conference.

The schools joined with two Ohio institutions and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise to plan a new course with a “regional footprint.”

By early December, the schools had announced the formation of the Mountain East Conference to start play next fall, and hired a West Liberty University vice president, Reid Amos, as its commissioner.

All other WVIAC schools found new conference affiliations, with the exception of Bluefield State College. BSC was said late this fall still to be considering its options.

Bluefield College football returns to the gridiron

A Mitchell Stadium crowd estimated at 4,000 greeted the Bluefield College Rams on Aug. 25 for the institution’s first football game in 71 years. After several years of preparation, the new team took the field in blue and white uniforms and plenty of optimism.

The debut crowd included several members of the Bluefield College Ramblin’ Reds team of 1941, and the son of its coach, Tony Lotito.

Jonathan Toe led the 2012 Rams onto the field carrying a sledge hammer painted blue and red in his hands. Late in the first quarter, BC quarterback Greg Hampton connected with Matt Hollandsworth in the east end zone for the college’s first touchdown in 71 years and the Rams led the University of Pikeville 7-0.

The score was tied 21-21 at halftime, and ended with a 42-28 Pikeville win.

Bluefield ended the season 0-11 and a pledge to work hard and earn wins in the Mid South Conference, which has a reputation as “the toughest NAIA league in America.”

Head coach Mike Gravier said, “I think we have got some pieces to build on. We have got good kids. They play hard.”

He said about recruiting for next year, “We have got to bring in those pieces that are going to make the difference for us and we will do that. My coaches will work their butts off and they will work hard to get the right guys here and we will continue to build.”

West Virginia joins Big 12

The West Virginia Mountaineers kicked off their first season in the Big 12 Conference in the fall semester, after agreeing in February to pay a hefty sum to win their freedom from the Big East. Sources told The Associated Press the price tag was $20 million.

The WVU football team, enjoying a top-10 ranking in the national polls, launched Big 12 play on the gridiron with a 70-63 win in Morgantown over Baylor, in which Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith set a school record with 656 passing yards.

After starting 5-0, the football squad lost its next five games and wound up the season losing to Syracuse in the third New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Smith was considered the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy after the blazing-hot start by the WVU offense. Late in the season, receiver-turned-running back Tavon Austin got some Heisman buzz as well.

VHSL announces realignment

The Southwest District will cease to exist in its current form after this summer as a result of realignments announced by the Virginia High School League last fall. Effective with the next school year, the state will go from a three-class format to six classes in all sports.

The winning argument was to match schools up with other schools nearer to the same size.

A “new” district in Southwest Virginia that could include Richlands and Tazewell still might adopt the old SWD name. Districts will likely exist only for scheduling purposes.

A new network of conferences, similar to sectionals in West Virginia, will be organized as the first level of postseason competition for each Virginia high school.

Sarver a six-time champion

Bland County student Grace Sarver finished her high school tennis career with another pair of state championships in June.

Sarver won amazing six state tennis crowns, three each in singles and doubles. She never lost a match or a set in singles, for a 66-0 scholastic record.

Sarver and Rebecca Havens combined to win the Group A doubles crown in a three-set thriller against Gate City.

Two pitchers get shot as pros

The next Billy Wagners may be on their way to the baseball big leagues from our region. Two local graduates were selected in the June 5 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.

Zak Wasilewski, who pitched for the same team and coach that Wagner did at Tazewell High School, had signed to play college baseball for the then-national champions, South Carolina. The left-hander’s plans changed when he was chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 14th round of the draft.

His prep coach, the legendary Lou Peery, said, “He worked hard and had his mind set on it and I am glad his dream has finally come true.”

Assigned to the Gulf Coast Blue Jays in minor league baseball, Wasilewski appeared in 10 games, starting two. He struck out 21 batters in 21 2/3 innings but walked 19 and had an 0-3 won-loss record.

Joe Church, a PikeView High School and Marshall University graduate, signed with the San Diego Padres after being picked in the 17th round of the June draft.

“I’ve been waiting forever just to get the chance, now I’m taking it,” Church said. “They’ve got a good player development program and that will help me out a lot.”

Church went 4-2 as a relief pitcher with the Eugene Emeralds of the Class A Northwest League. In 28 innings he struck out 35 men and walked only 15, ending with an ERA of 3.54.

Last spring, Church pitched 28 2/3 innings for Marshall, all in relief. He struck out 37, had a 2-0 record and allowed only one extra base hit all season.

Concord University alumnus Drew Bailey pitched in 2012 for the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association, producing 12 strikeouts and eight walks in 11 games with an ERA of 1.23.

McGonagle ‘king of baseball’

George McGonagle reluctantly suspended his retirement in 2012 to take over as interim general manager of the Bluefield Blue Jays, after the former GM resigned prior to the baseball season.

It was the third time he has stepped into the role of running Bowen Field and keeping a minor league baseball franchise in Bluefield happy, in addition to being president of the Bluefield Baseball Club. He has worked at Bowen Field off and on since 1951.

Earlier this month, Minor League Baseball named him their “2012 King of Baseball” tonight at the annual baseball winter meetings banquet. The long-standing award salutes a veteran from the professional baseball world for long-time dedication and service.

The Air Force veteran was honored on Nov. 8 by Bluefield’s Riley-Vest Post No. 9 of the American Legion with its Distin-guished Citizenship Award for 2012.

Hokies football bowls on

The Virginia Tech football team avoided its first losing season since 1992 by beating Rutgers 13-10 in overtime on Dec. 28 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

The winning kick, a 22-yard field goal, came from the foot of Giles High School alumnus Cody Journell.

The Hokies finished 7-6, and kept alive their streak of 20 straight years appearing in a postseason bowl game.

Honaker football is state runner-up

Doug Hubbard, in his 30th season as Honaker High School football coach, led the Tigers into the Virginia Group A, Division 1 state championship football game for the second time in his career on Dec. 8.

Honaker lost 17-10 to George Wythe in Salem, finishing with a 13-2 record. In a game of field position, the two teams went into halftime tied 10-10 and played a scoreless third quarter.

Hubbard was named PCA-BDT football coach of the year later in the month.

Tigers quarterback Ty Hall surpassed Heath Miller’s record for yards passing and touchdowns thrown.

Graham girls state runner-up in soccer

The Graham G-Girls soccer team reached the Group A state championship match on June 9, leaving the pitch at Radford University as state runner-up with a 19-2 record, after a 4-0 loss to George Mason.

Jessica Woodie and Kaylan Stanley provided Graham with a nearly invincible one-two punch on offense and defense. Woodie ended her career with 209 goals.

Coach Hank Furry said of Graham’s first appearance in a soccer state championship, “Our fans have been so great. It is just so important for our area because we kind of feel like we represent all the little schools on our end of the state.”

Princeton, Bluefield soccer reach states

The best record in the history of Princeton girls soccer powered the Tigers to the Mountain State Athletic Conference title and to the Class AAA state tournament in Charleston, where their season ended with a 1-0 loss to George Washington High.

The Tigers finished the year 17-2.

Princeton coach Michelle Dye, who was named MSAC coach of the year, said after the final match, “We play some extremely tough competition. ... They finished the regular season with one loss. ... They’ve exceeded all my expectations.”

Jessica Inman was selected the defender of the year and a first team All-Class AAA selection by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association, and made first team all-MSAC.

The boys soccer team from Blue-field High made it to the state tournament for the first time in school history in November. The Beavers, who were winless in 2009 and won two games in 2010, reached the final four in Class AA-A and ended 15-6-2 for the year after a 5-1 defeat by Fairmont Senior.

BSC reaches NCAA tennis playoffs

For the first time in school history, a sports team from Bluefield State College reached the national level of the NCAA playoffs in May when the men’s tennis team won its way into the nation’s final 16 teams in Division II.

The Big Blues took the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Region and hosted the first round of the regional playoffs at Bluefield City Park. The squad, ranked 44th in the country by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, beat West Virginia Wesleyan 5-3 on April 30 to claim the regional championship.

Prior to the regionals, BSC won the West Virginia Conference regular season crown and tournament championship for the first time in program history.

Shikhar Kapur of the Big Blues was named the player of the year in the West Virginia Conference for the second time, and earned academic all-American honors as well.

Special mention

• Concord linebacker Jake Lilly was named the defensive player of the year in West Virginia Conference football and made several all-American teams. The Bluefield High grad led the league in tackles for the second straight year and was fourth in Division II in tackles per game.

He finished the year with 126 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, half a sack and six pass break-ups.

• Bluefield High School basketball returned to the National Guard Armory in Brushfork to play home games for the first time since 2001. A cooperative effort among county school personnel, armory officials and the high school resulted in the construction of a new playing floor, new scoreboard and other improvements.

• Losing streaks ended for the football programs at Mount View after 31 losses in a row, Tazewell (18 games) and Narrows (18 games).

• Virginia Tech fired Seth Greenberg as men’s basketball coach and hired former Tech assistant coach James Johnson.

• River View began play on its own football field after two years of playing games and practicing in Welch.

• Local runner Nick Whited compiled an impressive slate of wins and personal records in races across the region, and beyond.

• Concord’s R.J. Anderson capped his indoor track and field career by finishing fifth in the men’s 60-meter dash at the NCAA Division II Indoor National Championships in Minnesota. By reaching the finals, he secured All-America status. He also qualified for the outdoor national championships in Colorado, but could not compete because of injury.

• Among local athletes participating on the next level: Bluefield’s Craig Ponder starts for North Carolina-Wilmington, Devon Johnson and Joe Woodrum seeing playing time for Marshall football, Richlands’ Bradley Strong is a standout on the diamond at Western Carolina, and Princeton senior McKenzie Akers has signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Marshall. Bluefield’s Evan Smith signs to play golf at Western Carolina.