By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
For baseball teams in the Mountain State, playoff time has arrived.
The regular season games were simply meant to prepare teams for what lies ahead this week with sectionals taking place throughout the region.
Still, the regular season matters. Just look at what River View has done on its way to a 14-5 record heading into sectional play with Mount View.
"I feel good about what we have got," River View first-year head coach Chris Wolford said. "I feel good about our team, I feel good about our chances."
He should. Wyoming East knows too, and so does Bluefield.
The Warriors, who won the Class AA state title two years ago, is 21-5, with one of those defeats coming to River View.
When the season began, the Raiders lost its first two games, but then went on a nine-game win streak.
"We started 0-2, we lost to East, we lost to Man, and I was beginning to think, ‘Oh man, what are we going to do’," Wolford said, "but then we started getting better every day and I can see a big difference."
So can anyone else who has played the Raiders, who saw that nine-game streak come to an end with a doubleheader loss at PikeView, who are currently 20-7 and a definite threat for state competition.
Yet, one day after traveling more than two hours just to get to Gardner, the Raiders had to take a drive to tradition-rich Wyoming East, a team they had lost to 14-7 in the season opener.
Terry Foster was ready, allowing just three hits in the Raiders 2-0 win, a landmark win for a school in just its fourth year of existence. They got another one on Friday when Foster scattered six hits and River View pounded Bluefield 16-7 at Bowen Field.
"I won’t say they have made a big improvement, a couple of years ago with Coach (Mike) Vallo, they were solid, last year they were a little down," Bluefield head coach Justin Gilbert said. "Coach Wolford, you can tell, he has a lot of energy, he is a young guy, and it carries over onto the field. His guys are enthusiastic and they came out ready to play tonight."
A sign of a good team is the ability to forget about a loss and move on. The Raiders have done that, winning three in a row after the losses at PikeView, and then overcame a setback to Graham on Thursday to beat that other team from Bluefield one night later.
"We had a doubleheader on Senior Night and we slipped up there against Graham, but we won the second game," Wolford said. "We bounced back nice today behind Terry Foster there, he is pitching the ball nice."
Real nice. River View is also swinging the bats. Speedy Jordan Wilson is the ideal leadoff hitter. If he get on base, he's hard to stop on the basepaths, much like he is on the football field. Cameron Roberts, who had three hits and four RBIs against Bluefield is the cleanup hitter, while T.J. Stacy — one of eight seniors on the team — added two triples and three RBIs in the win over the Beavers.
"(Camo, as he calls Roberts), is a good hitter, he works hard, probably the hardest worker we have got," Wolford said. "Stacy had a good game, he is one of our leaders."
Wolford, is a graduate of Hurley, and a teacher at Bradshaw Elementary School, just across the parking lot from the area's newest high school that replaced the former schools at Iaeger and War.
Wolford's message to his Raiders from the start has been pretty simple, and it seems to work.
"More or less, stay relaxed, have fun, go out there and play good baseball," Wolford said. "Just be relaxed because if you are not relaxed and having a good time, and you put too much pressure on yourself you are not going to perform. Just play relaxed."
How can they not play loose when Wolford is so active on his own? Let's just say the third base coach's box isn't necessary. He is constantly on the move, walking down the line to encourage a batter, yelling out instructions to the baserunners and making sure those in the dugout are staying in the game.
Apparently this is his own way of not showing perhaps his true feelings.
"I am excited, I just can’t take standing still," he said, with a laugh. "I am just all to pieces, a nervous person."
He might be, but his players seem to enjoy this winning formula. It's been a turnaround season at River View, with the boys basketball team also enjoying its best year in the short history of the school.
Now the best baseball team is doing just fine. (Apparently so is the softball team, whose Lady Raiders claimed the sectional title, and will meet James Monroe in the regional semifinals on Thursday).
What is going on at River View?
"I believe we are just starting to get some chemistry and getting the boys alive," Wolford said. "We are just starting to get that school spirit, the atmosphere is getting better and the boys are getting excited and they are cheering for each other."
In addition to River View hosting struggling Mount View in the best 2-of-3 sectional tournament beginning on Wednesday in Bradshaw, there are three other sectionals taking place involving local teams.
PikeView will host Bluefield and James Monroe beginning on Monday. With a 20-7 record, the Panthers are the favorites, which doesn't surprise Gilbert, whose Beavers are 8-15, and have lost to both the Panthers and Mavericks this season.
"They deserve to be the favorite. Coach (Josh) Wyatt and that group has a solid bunch, they hit the ball, they have got four or five guys that throw the ball well, and they make plays in the infield so they are definitely the favorite," Gilbert said. "James Monroe, I think Coach Nick Newberry has done a great job in his first year. His kids play hard, we probably come into that, feeling that those two, since they beat us, they are the favorites."
Just don't count out the Beavers, who will have to put the loss to River View out of their minds and focus on the task ahead.
"It is definitely not how you would draw it up, but that has sort of being the story for us this season," said Gilbert, whose Beavers do have solid starting pitching with Trevor Mullins and R.J. Bourne. "I felt like on any given night we can beat anybody, and on any given night, we can lose to anybody.
"It is just a matter of making plays, and a lot of times we don't make plays..."
Meanwhile, in Class AAA action, Princeton (9-17), which joined Wyoming East as a state champion in 2012, will attempt to put what has been a disappointing regular season behind them, and focus on sectional rival Greenbrier East (14-5), which will host the first of a possible three games with the Tigers on Tuesday.
Montcalm (8-12) will also take part in Class A sectional play at Meadow Bridge, with the Generals and Wildcats joined by Greenbrier West and Greater Beckley Christian.
In other local West Virginia playoff action, James Monroe (19-7) softball, which continued its long run of sectional dominance, will host River View (8-9) in the regional semifinals on Thursday at 6.
James Monroe advanced to the Class AA state championship game last season.
The Bluefield girls and boys tennis teams will be involved in Class AA/A state tournament action this week in what has become an annual pilgrimage to Charleston each May.
Regional track meets will also be held this week, with the state meet the following weekend, also in Charleston. PikeView, the only track team from either side of the state line that has reported results this season, is led by Jason Weitzel and Lexie O'Dell.
Virginia schools still have nearly two weeks of regular season play remaining in all but tennis, with the postseason beginning for the netters during the week of May 19.
— Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @bdtwoodson.