Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

March 30, 2013

Mountain State schools flocking to the beach for baseball

BLUEFIELD — Justin Gilbert is ready to get his Bluefield Beavers’ baseball team out the state. So are a bunch of other high school baseball teams in West Virginia.

Looking for a high school baseball game to attend this week in the Mountain State?

You might have a better opportunity in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“Actually, it is 35,” said Capital baseball coach Robert Massey, when I took a wild guess at how many teams will be making the trip to the beach. “You take (teams) like Bridgeport, they haven’t even played a game yet so they are going down there and get to play.  

“The weather up here has got terrible. You go down there and you have a chance to play. It is going to be at least 50 or 55 and sunny hopefully.”

Among the schools heading to Myrtle Beach are Mercer County schools  Bluefield, PikeView and Princeton, all of whom will be in Myrtle Beach to compete in the Mingo Bay Classic in the week ahead.

Hey, these guys are even looking forward to practice ... yes, practice. So far most of the preparation for spring sports has been done inside, which isn’t ideal for baseball, softball, soccer, tennis or track.

“I am excited about this trip we go on,” Gilbert said. “I am not making excuses, but it will be nice to practice outdoors on Monday.

“We look forward to next week. We checked the weather. It is supposed to be nice. We will go down and practice on Monday and then we play Tuesday through Saturday.”

West Virginia is not the ideal climate for baseball. Myrtle Beach is.

Not to make anyone jealous, but the high temperature at the bench today is slated to be 71. The ‘lowest’ high temp over the next seven days is 57. There is a small chance to rain, but at least snow won’t be an issue.

What are we expecting over the next week? How about 41 degrees and a possibility of rain or even snow on Tuesday. The mercury ‘might’ stretch as high as 50 once after Monday until the weekend.

That is not ideal weather for baseball, or many other outdoor activities.

The cancellations have been coming fast as the start of spring sports have been met with rain, snow and cold temperatures, none of which is favorable for outdoor games.

Bluefield, PikeView and Princeton have played a combined 16 games. They have canceled or postponed 19, with little room on the schedule to make them up.

Capital (3-4), which lost to Princeton 5-4 on Saturday, has also lost six games and looking forward to Myrtle Beach.

“We have lost about six games, but we are making them up,” said Massey, whose Cougars have been to the Region III finals in two of the last three years. “A lot of (teams) are heading down right now.”

It isn’t just the weather that sends teams to the Palmetto State.

“We are excited,” Gilbert said. “We need to improve, we need to get better, but that is what the trip is for.”

Princeton (4-2) head coach Josh Wilburn used this trip in the previous two years to help develop a team that won the Class AAA state championship in 2012.

With much of the roster from that team now playing college baseball, Wilburn needs to get his team outside, not only to practice, but to play games and prepare for another run at Charleston.

“It seems like every time we go to Myrtle Beach and come back we are a  different baseball team,” Wilburn said. “We play good competition down there and (face) quality pitchers.

“I think every night we are seeing a quality pitcher and we will get a lot of playing in and lot of at-bats and our pitchers will see a lot of innings.”

The same goes for PikeView, which, like Princeton, is making its third straight trip to Myrtle Beach. Josh Wyatt credited the experience gained there for the Panthers’ sectional crown in 2011.

“In the two years previous I have went I have always gone down there trying to grow team unity and bonding and trying to learn a little bit more about the game,” Wyatt said.

Not this year. Wyatt has a close-knit squad, as evidenced by their reaction after wins over the last two days against Westside and Bluefield. He actually wants his Panthers to improve on their 5-1 record on the season.

“This year we get to go in and we are looking forward to winning some ball games,” Wyatt said. “It is not just about a beach trip to learn baseball, we are going down there to win games.

“I don’t have to worry about these guys getting closer. It was phenomenal coming back last night (from Westside) the way they bonded together.”

Bluefield (2-2) is making its second straight visit to Myrtle Beach, something that Gilbert initiated after seeing how it helped the Tigers and Panthers on the diamond.

“A couple of years ago a couple of the other teams in Mercer County started going,” Gilbert said. “We looked at it as pretty much a guaranteed week of 4 or 5 games, and you can bank on the weather being nice.”

It isn’t just West Virginia schools that will be involved. The weather has been unseasonably cold and un-baseball-like all across the east coast and many of those teams are flocking to the beach.

“In the tournament that we are in there are 92 teams,” Gilbert said.

Not only is the weather expected to be beach-like in Myrtle Beach, but the competition will be a definite upgrade over what they see on a regular basis closer to home.

“When I looked at the weather next week for here, I still see 40 degrees,  and I still see rain,” Gilbert said. “You just hope you can go down there and see competition that when you come home you can say ‘You know what, we have seen a lot of competition.’”

Gilbert, much like Wilburn, Wyatt and Massey, want to be tested to be prepared when the postseason begins in early-May, when hopefully the  weather in the Mountain State will actually resemble spring.

“When we come back home the teams that we played, you looked at and say, ‘Well, we feel like there is nobody that we have seen here better than we saw down south,’” Gilbert said. “You hope playing that different level of competition will help you when you come home.”

It’s not just the coaches that want that trip to the beach. The players are just as tired of wet, cold, snow or rain, and are ready to play ball and leave the unpredictable weather of West Virginia behind for a few days.

Just ask Princeton junior Addison Wood.

“It definitely hasn’t gone our way this year, but I think we are working through it and we are going to bounce back really good,” Wood said. “We are looking forward to the beach, just focus on baseball and warm weather.”

Not a bad way to spend spring break.

Anyone need a correspondent? Sign me up.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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