Gardner – PikeView’s boys sports have struggled over the last five years meaning Saturday’s sectional championship was uncharted territory for the Panthers.
They had little trouble navigating those waters when it mattered.
PikeView scored all four of its runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, knocking off two-time defending sectional champion Bluefield 4-2 Saturday afternoon in Gardner.
With the win the Panthers advance to the regional championship, needing two wins to reach the state tournament.
Prior to the decisive inning the Panthers hadn’t had much luck on offense, stranding four on base with just three hits.
But they capitalized when it mattered, trailing 1-0 after Bluefield struck first in the pitcher’s duel.
“We talked about last night sticking to what got us 20 wins as far as playing for the big inning,” PikeView coach Josh Wyatt said. “Today was the prime example of that. It was a pitcher’s duel. When you get a breath of being able to score some runs you better jump on it and suffocate as many runs across the plate as you can. The boys, we talked about not being in this situation in all sports last night. We are fighting with each other last night instead of for each other and tonight everybody was there and had the confidence. You could see in that last inning everybody wanted to be that guy and make the last out.”
The Panthers felt the pressure in the top of the fifth when the Beavers drew first blood following a tic for tac duel between aces Hunter Harmon and Nathan Riffe.
Harmon helped his own cause with a sinking single into center that was nearly nabbed on a dive, allowing Caleb Fuller to score.
Riffe followed with a strikeout to strand a pair on the bases and returned the favor in the bottom of the frame.
Kalum Kiser started the rally with a leadoff single, and an error on the next play put two on for Riffe. The senior poked a single to right that scored Kiser and Drew Damewood kept the train rolling with a two-run single to break the tie, taking second on the throw home.
Damewood rolled the dice again, stealing third and scooting home when the throw down bounced into left field, capping the outburst.
Compounding the lapse was Bluefield’s inability to score. After exploding for 16 and 14 runs, respectively, in their previous two game, the Beavers stranded 11 runners on base with another being called out for tagging up too early on an inning-ending double play in the third.
“It was just a good ball game,” Bluefield coach Jimmy Redmond said. “We left 11 on. The top of the fourth we had the bases loaded and we had a base-running boo-boo. Baseball’s funny. The last couple of days we hit the ball and put up 30 runs but today Riffe pitched a good game. Hunter pitched a good game too but we had that one bad inning.”
The visitors made a comeback charge in the top of the sixth, scoring a run and loading the bases with one out but Riffe induced a pop and flyout to limit the damage. The last bit of resistance he faced came in the top of the seventh when he issued a leadoff walk to Harmon but stranded him on first by retiring the next three in order.
In all Riffe yielded eight hits but allowed just two runs to score.
“That’s been a problem for us all year – people getting on a but not being able to kill those innings,” Wyatt said. “Nathan did a phenomenal job pitching in reverse in those moments. We told him before the game if we get those runners on, especially ahead of (Bryson) Redmond and Harmon, we were going to have to pitch in reverse and leadoff with off-speed and get those across the plate for strikes. I thought he did a good job with that and getting some lazy fly ball outs that are the easy outs. We were able to carry that momentum to the dugout and Harmon was doing the same thing. We were leaving some runners on there early – not as many, but we couldn’t come up with the big hit. We finally broke through and got that in the fifth.”
With the win PikeView captures its first sectional title since 2016 when Wyatt was in his previous stint as head coach. He stepped down prior to the 2017 season and took the reins again last year.
“It’s been seven years,” Wyatt said. “It’s all about this foundation for PikeView baseball that was laid a long time ago. This is a pillar on that foundation. Being a part of that success and having a strong middle school program is nice and most of these kids came through it as well. They’re that first team that got us headed back in the right direction and I think a lot of people talk about the beach trip and going down there and getting beat up on and you do if you approach it that way. But us, in those moments you either learn to fight with each other or fight for each other. I feel like that’s where we’ve grown as far as staying in the baseball game and learning. Now this team will be the first to play in regionals since 2016.”
PikeView will play the winner of Saturday evening’s Nicholas County-Shady Spring game in a best-of-3 regional series starting Monday, May 22. The winner will advance to the state baseball tournament in Charleston.
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