Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

May 30, 2012

Tigers baseball team can end long streak of futility

BLUEFIELD — Sure hope the Princeton Tigers aren’t superstitious.

Go Princeton, end the streak. It’s gone on way too long.

In my rather short career at a sports reporter and editor, I have had the opportunity to cover  team and individual champions in every sport played at the prep level except for one.

Guess which one.

Baseball has been my albatross. Six times I have had teams in the beats that I have covered — I could actually have such a thing in Bristol — and they have lost every time.

Unicoi County, a baseball power in Tennessee, lost in consecutive seasons when I was in Erwin in the late-nineties. The Blue Devils were favored in both, but came up short each time.

I was in Salem in 2001 covering J.J. Kelly and John Battle. True, the Trojans are a key part of the Bristol coverage area, but my beat was the Lonesome Pine District and I was focused on the Indians.

It looked good going into the top of the seventh with the Indians leading 8-1. Seemed comfortable at the time, but it wasn’t. The Trojans scored an amazing eight runs against shell-shocked eight-time state champion coach Mack Shupe to win 9-8.

Kelly got back in 2002, and lost again. Gate City reached the summit in 2004, and lost. On the West Virginia side, James Monroe reached the state finals in 2010, and lost.

The streak could have been broken last season, but I chose not to attend the state finals when Honaker won it all.

I plan on being in Charleston on Saturday if they win today against Bridgeport. While reporters are supposed to be neutral and I will be on the outside, on the inside I will be cheering for the Tigers.

This is one streak that must end.  

Speaking of streaks, Graham has finally broken a losing skid of its own.

When Graham made the move to Group A prior to this season, the reason was to give their sports teams a better chance to compete at the regional level, and perhaps beyond.

It worked.

Graham has had good soccer teams for a while. My niece, Lauren, played on some very good teams for the G-Girls that were talented, but not good enough to get past the large Roanoke Valley schools whose rosters are full of players who play soccer and nothing else.

By finally playing schools their own size, Graham has reached the promised land, which in this case is the state tournament. The G-Girls stopped George Wythe on Wednesday and will now play homestanding Radford on Friday for the Region C title.

A win and Graham (16-1) will host a state quarterfinal game on Tuesday.  A loss and they’ll still play in a game with a trip to Radford on the line.

The G-Girls have had a goal all season of getting to Radford, with the state semifinals slated on Friday, and hopefully returning for the state finals on Saturday.

What a refreshing change it is to see local teams with a shot to play in the Spring Jubilee in Radford. It hasn’t happened often in anything other than tennis in my seven years here.

It appears our only hope on the Virginia side of the Daily Telegraph coverage area comes from the girls.

Grace Sarver will be back in Radford, as the Bland County senior seeks her third Group A singles and doubles championships, this time with Rebecca Havens replacing Kirby Mustard as her partner on the court. She didn’t play prep tennis last year or she could be going for four in a row.

Athletes from two other teams have a chance to earn a spot in the state tournament today, including the Richlands softball team and the Graham girls tennis team.

Richlands, which survived a 12 inning 1-0 marathon on Tuesday at Bassett to extend its season, must beat Hidden Valley — which won its first regional victory as a program earlier this week — to qualify for the Region IV title game and a berth in the Group AA state tourney.

 The G-Girls’ tennis team was able to dispose of Bath County and will now face perennial Group A powerhouse Radford in the Region C finals today. A win and the G-Girls will join Sarver and Havens in Radford next week.

 It is a refreshing change for the Virginia schools in the Daily Telegraph coverage area. It seems every year that the schools battle it out in district tournaments one week and call it a season without much of a threat in regional play in the next.

 While the Black Diamond District schools — Honaker and Haysi — still had hopes in baseball and softball on Wednesday, the results weren’t so good for Southwest District schools Richlands and Tazewell.

 The Blue Tornado lost in the opening round of regional play in baseball, boys soccer and girls soccer. The Bulldogs did the same in baseball and softball. Graham, now in the Mountain Empire District, lost in boys soccer, but have a long ways to go to reach that level of play on the diamond.  

Bland County also reached the regional tourney for the first time in softball, and lived to play a second day, but only because the first day was suspended by rain. At least there is progress being made.

All those zeros on the win column for local teams in regional play is a disturbing trend that has been going on for way too long.

The Spring Jubilee in Radford is open to everyone, but athletes in this area of the state usually have to purchase tickets to attend.  

A large part of the problem is simply lack of numbers compared to schools they’re playing at the regional level. That should begin to change in 2013 when Richlands and Tazewell join schools closer to their size in Group A.

The playoff format will also change to more of a sectional approach like it is currently done in West Virginia. Hopefully that will help because right now those schools simply can’t compete.

That is why Graham needed to make the change, and look what it did for the G-Girls.

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

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