By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
As you have read here in the past, spring sports have always suffered in Four Seasons Country, with little emphasis placed on games that aren’t played with a football or basketball.
Don’t believe everything you read.
All that seemed to change last spring, when athletes from schools on both sides of the state line had what must have been one of their better springs in recent years, at least in my limited knowledge of the area.
While it might be hard to believe with the weather the region has endured in recent weeks, spring sports — at the high school level — begin this week in baseball, softball, track, tennis, and soccer in Virginia.
Last spring will be hard to beat, with all those sports being in the limelight at times. Here are a few highlights:
•The Princeton Tigers won the Class AAA state baseball championship.
•Grace Sarver of Bland County claimed her third Group A singles tennis title.
•Sarver combined with new partner Rebecca Havens to win a third Group A doubles crown. The first two came with Kirby Mustard.
•Savannah Burton claimed the Group A individual state title for Narrows in the triple jump, just a few days after setting a Region C record in the same event, a mark that had been held since 1994. Burton can jump, as evidenced by claiming the state long jump crown in 2010.
•The Graham G-Girls’ soccer team advanced to the Group A state championship game, losing to perennial power George Mason in the finals.
•Tazewell baseball standout Zac Wasilewski was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays. He left a scholarship to South Carolina behind and spent last summer in the Gulf Coast League. Bluefield could be his destination when the Appalachian League starts in mid-June.
(Bulldogs’ head coach Lou Peery didn’t just lose Wasilewski. Ryan Hankins and Gavan Yates are both playing at Virginia Intermont, while Blake Hash is playing golf at Bluefield State).
•Joey Church, a former star at PikeView, was picked out of Marshall by the San Diego Padres. He had a stellar first year playing in Eugene, Ore., posting a 4-2 record with a 3.54 earned run average in 25 games.
•Richlands softball endured 14 one-run games, but won the Southwest District title and advanced to the Group AA state quarterfinals.
•Wyoming East captured the Class AA state baseball championship with two hits in a 1-0 win over Herbert Hoover.
•Graham’s girls tennis team lost to Radford in the Region C finals, one step from a state berth.
•Bluefield sent seven players to the Class AA state tennis tournament, while Princeton had one of their own qualify for Charleston.
•Reece Strong, one of the area better baseball players recovered from a broken ankle to have a stellar senior campaign at Richlands, and has joined his brother, Bradley, on the baseball team Western Carolina.
•The Southern Conference now has three local baseball players, with Princeton’s Corey Quick now play for the Wofford Terriers.
Get the hint? It was a memorable spring. Doing all that again will be a challenge.
Many of those athletes who accomplished those achievements have moved on. Some are still playing at the college level, others are hitting the books.
How talented was the Princeton baseball team? The Tigers, who defeated Nitro 7-4, to claim the AAA state title, lost seven starters to graduation, and six of them are playing a sport in college.
That includes Quick, whose two-run double put the Tigers up during a six-run sixth inning against the Wildcats, while Austin Southcott, who caught the final out at his shortstop position against Nitro, is playing at Concord.
Bluefield State was the landing spot for a quartet of Tigers, with J.C. Pennington — who was the winning pitcher — Alex Quick — who got the save — and Seth Rose — whose fifth inning home run sparked a comeback from a 4-0 deficit against the Wildcats, which included North Carolina signee Korey Dunbar.
J.J. McPherson, who had a crucial error in a three-run third for Nitro to put the Tigers down by four runs, collected with a two-run single to tie the score at 4-4, and is now playing golf for the Big Blues.
No wonder baseball is called a team game.
Sarver has been the star of the individual sports, claiming six state titles in three years for the Bears. It could have been seven if not for a loss to Radford in the 2010 state team title match.
Actually, it could have been nine since Sarver sat out her junior season to play against better competition.
It worked. Sarver got a scholarship and is now making a racket at Milligan College, which is ranked among the top 25 NAIA programs in America. The sibling trio of Grace (6, Bland County), Andy (7, Bluefield) and Ashleigh (Sarver) Beasley (5, Bland) combined to win 18 championships.
Burton may have been the top all-around athlete to graduate last spring. She starred in basketball, volleyball and track for the Green Wave. Burton is now using her leaping ability to play volleyball at Radford.
Graham fell just short of a state championship, but no one could blame Jessica Woodie, who finished her career with 209 goals in four seasons, leading the G-Girls to the final game of the season before falling to George Mason, which has won the last five Group A state championships.
Unlike many of the other area athletes who have gone on to play elsewhere, Woodie isn’t playing in college. She was asked often, especially by me, about continuing her career, but Woodie said she was through, and she was a women of her word.
She is now attending Elon, but has left the pitch behind.
Her classmate and equally talented defensive whiz Kaylan Stanley, was also a key part of the G-Girls and is now on the roster at Lees-McRae.
The list of athletes who have moved on could go on and on ... Now, see what I mean by the challenge that lies ahead?
At least I have been proven wrong. Four Seasons Country can be competitive and even successful in spring sports.
Which teams and athletes will step up and fill the void left behind by the Princeton Tigers, Sarver, Burton, Woodie and the rest?
I wish I knew, but someone will. That is just the way it works.
Here is hoping for another memorable spring ahead, with plenty of sunshine and very little rain.
—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org