A year ago, Bluefield State;s baseball Big Blues missed the conference playoffs by just one game. This year, they look to a strong starting rotation to lift them into the WVIAC playoff picture.
Veteran coach Geoff Hunter, after returning from the team's traditional Florida spring trip, assessed the 1997 Big Blues as "better than we were a year ago at this point." The team lost outfielders Dylan Daquilla and Gary Dove, pitchers Josh King and Ronnie Phillips, and second baseman Chris Krondon from last year's team, which finished 8-12 in the conference.
"One of our strengths should be our starting pitching. We have quality and depth on the mound, and our pitching should make us competitive," Hunter said. Keith Bryant anchors the staff. "He's a power pitcher, probably the best here since Eddie Luers (1992)," the coach observed. "There is some major league interest in Keith because he has great ability and an outstanding work ethic."
Freshman Jason Houck, whose complete game effort lifted the Blues to a win over Pfeiffer College earlier this month, also figures to log several innings. "Jason is a very intelligent pitcher who figures to get better as he gains experience," Hunter added.
Matt Vestal and Shawn Sparks are position players who will take their turns on the hill for spot starts. Both are effective, seasoned players, according to their coach. Freshmen Charlie McLain and Danny Crouse will also get a look on the mound, with sophomores Jeremy Truman and Jeff Walker providing the middle relief. "We're still looking for someone who is comfortable in the role of closer," Hunter said.
Cory Wolfe and Jason Bachover will split time behind the plate. "Cory is a little better offensively, and Jason is a capable defensive catcher," the coach said. At first, Mike Fowler returns. The former Big Creek star blasted nine batting practice homers out of Bowen Field during a recent workout. Team captain Ryan Scott, the club's only senior, is back at second base. "Ryan is a very dependable contact hitter. We'll probably hit him second or third in the batting order," Hunter projected. Shortstop Matt Vestal "has really shown improved range and arm strength," the coach said.
The remainder of the infield finds Damien Jackson, an outstanding athlete, at third base, with Shawn Sparks providing versatility as a utility infielder.
Centerfielder John Ford returns after a very good freshman campaign. "He's a good hitter at the top of the order and is a settling influence in the field," Hunter said. Former Mount View standout Jamie Bailey will start in right and split time with Backover and Wolfe behind the plate. "Jamie is a line drive hitter with home run power," the coach observed. In a platoon arrangement, Kent Edwards, Jared Willingham, Steve Mazon, and Jason Simpkins will see time in leftfield.
"We played some outstanding competition during our southern trip, and we hope it will pay dividends during the conference season," Hunter concluded. BSC plays at home Monday and Wednesday with WVIAC doubleheaders at Bowen Field against West Virginia Wesleyan and Concord, respectively.