Column by BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It was one of the most amazing comebacks I have seen on a baseball field.
PikeView was playing at Summers County in the sectional championship game in 2011. The Bobcats had already beaten the Panthers once 16-13 and had to win just one game to be section champs.
Summers County, which was led by slugger Tarin McKinney — who was intentionally walked five times to keep him from reaching the short left-field fence in Hinton — led 8-3 with PikeView at the plate in the bottom of the seventh.
Would you believe PikeView scored five runs on just three hits, including a two-run single by freshman Hunter Moses, to force extra innings?
PikeView loaded the bases in the eighth and won the game 9-8.
The ‘if necessary’ game became necessary and the Panthers won 10-0 in five innings to claim the school’s first section title since 2006.
Who would have thought that two years later that PikeView baseball — which finished that season at 9-22 — would be a 4-3 loss in extra innings to Independence from playing in the Class AA state tournament.
Even Independence senior Drew D’Angelo had to admit the Patriots weren’t all that aware of PikeView after beating defending Class AA state champion Wyoming East in the regional semifinals.
“They kind of snuck up on us,” D’Angelo said. “We were ready for Wyoming East, we all got up for Wyoming East, and then PikeView comes along and they are a real good baseball team, but we came through at the end.”
Not to put any pressure on PikeView, but mark it down, the Panthers will be back.
“Just to get a taste of it, it is almost like that first home run, and you want another one,” PikeView head coach Josh Wyatt said. “We exceeded expectations this year. I know a lot of people didn’t have us coming here, we got to this point and when we got here we were hungry for the next.”
Coaching wasn’t an occupation that Wyatt was looking for as a career. That was especially true after watching how his father, Bobby Wyatt — who is now the football coach at PikeView — was treated prior to leaving the football position at Tazewell.
“Dad was at Tazewell, and the whole story with the stuff he went through there, I said I would never get into it,” Wyatt said. “I got away from it for a couple of years, but I love this game.”
Wyatt played at PikeView and Concord, and figured he was finished with baseball. That lasted for three years until Wyatt decided to work for Mick Bayle as an assistant coach at Princeton Middle School.
The baseball position at PikeView came open the next year. He applied for it, and got it. He simply couldn’t leave the game he loved.
“I have an amazing wife at home, she knew when I took it she knows that when I go after something I want I give 150 percent,” Wyatt said. “I think I have kids here that match that and I just couldn’t stay away from it.
“I love baseball and it just called me here.”
No school in this area has improved its athletics as much as PikeView, which now might have the best overall sports program among the schools in the Daily Telegraph coverage area.
While PikeView has had dedicated baseball coaches in the past, from the late Sam White to the enthuasiatic Norman Fletcher, it is Wyatt who began the turnaround that had the Panthers perhaps one questionable decision by an umpire from the brink of Charleston and the state baseball tournament.
“If you talk about how to turn a program around I think these boys are the model for that,” said Wyatt, whose Panthers were 13-15 last year, and then set a school record with 23 wins this season. “We will get in the weight room and get stronger and hopefully come out here and be in this game next year.”
The expectations will be great. PikeView returns all but two seniors — Kevin Cottle and Greg Hogan — from this year’s squad that won the school’s second sectional crown in three seasons.
Cottle, who pitched admirably over two days in the loss to Independence, was part of that club that defeated the Bobcats twice in 2011 to win that sectional title. It was Cottle who kept the Panthers alive to give them a chance to play Summers County.
“When he was a 10th grader I started pitching him and we were in sectionals against James Monroe and we were in an elimination game,” said Wyatt, who has also spearheaded an effort to improve the baseball facility at PikeView. “That was probably his third start in his high school career and he went out and shut them down.
“He started in the offseason working hard, he had a great work ethic with it. He got better, he found a change-up, and that is what a lot people don’t can see is how dominant that pitch is. It moves a lot, breaks off the plate and he ended up 9-1 in the state of West Virginia.
“If there is a first team all-state pitcher, I believe that is one right there.”
Replacing Cottle and the slick-fielding Hogan at shortstop won’t be easy, but Wyatt — like Josh Wilburn, who turned a struggling program at Princeton into state champions last season — simply expects to reload and keep winning baseball games.
“We will go back, get back in the weight room and get stronger,” said Wyatt, whose sister, Tracy Raban, has turned Graham girls’ basketball program into one of the best programs in the area. “We have got summer ball here and we will try to get this program going where these seniors have put it so far.
“We have a shortstop there where somebody is going to have to come in and fill in and find us a right arm.”
PikeView returns everyone else, including Moses, southpaw Austin Cordell — who is one of the top left-handed pitchers in the state — hard-hitting Zach Meadows and three freshmen who will be a year older.
All helped bring PikeView to the brink of reaching the ultimate goal.
“To go in this morning and get your packet from the the SSAC for the state tournament and see your name in the bracket as an ‘if’ was great for this program,” Wyatt said. “It is definitely something that we wanted.
“I think we came out here and battled for it, we are very young ball club. I had six underclassmen out there today. They love baseball, we already have the summer schedule ready, the travel program is ready to go.”
Sounds like coaching and Wyatt go together just fine.
“Right here is what it is all about,” Wyatt said. “Seeing these kids and having them battle, that is what coaching is all about.”
Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson @ bdtonline.com.