Beavers softball team opens state play on Tuesday

May 18—BLUEFIELD — Charleston, here comes the Beavers.

With a two-game sweep over Independence, 9-2 and 7-0, the Bluefield High softball girls earned the Region 3 AA championship and a trip to the state tournament for the first time in school history.

Bluefield (17-5) will open Wednesday, May 22 at 9:45 a.m. against highly-rated Keyser (25-9) after the Golden Hurricane topped Weir, 6-4 and 3-1, in the Region I battle. The win marks Keyser's second trip to Charleston and first since 2012.

Isabella "Izzy" Smith won both games for Bluefield, with the hitting sparked by Madison Lawson, whose two-run double put BHS ahead to stay in the title game following a first-round game with a home run and 5 runs batted in. Grace and Abby Richardson had a pair of solid games for the Beavers.

"Maddie can hit the ball about as hard as any player I have seen," says Hall, "and she has stepped up her game as the pressure increases."

Bluefield is one of four AA teams to make the state trip and the games will be played at Charleston's Little Creek Park (The Rock Field A) in a double-elimination format on May 22-23. Semifinals, and winners bracket finals will be played Wednesday.

Herbert Hoover (26-3) and Winfield (23-9) will face off in the second game. Losers bracket finals and championships will be played Thursday. The AA championship contest is slated for Thursday at 6 p.m.

The park has a turf field and Bluefield practiced at Mitchell Stadium and Concord University to hone their skills on the artificial grass.

Smith believes the turf could be a positive game changer for the speedy Beavers and Abby Richardson adds the players in travel ball have had game experience on that type of field, as well. The Bluefield players have reviewed the differences in both infield and outfield play in practice.

"This team has better communication than any I have seen," says first-year BHS coach Justin Hall, who has worked with the majority of the players little league and travel ball for years.

Hall took over for Barry Reed, who built the program into a winner in the past three seasons.

Led by catcher Grace Richardson (.469) and shortstop Abby Richardson (.456), Bluefield has won seven straight entering the state tournament. With 16 wins and 201 strikeouts, Smith has become a standout on the mound, also hitting well with a recent two-home runs-in-one-inning effort to help herself to a victory.

"I have taken a lot of pitching lessons in the past year," says Smith, "and worked on my hitting, too. I believe in my defense 100 percent and they have come through all season long. Having this chance to be in the state playoffs is an indescribable feeling."

Bluefield's lineup usually includes Sophie Hall at first, with Audra Rockness at second, Abby Richardson at short and Lawson playing third. In the outfield, Cara Brown in left, Taylor Mabry in center and Abby Matthews in right have become a reliable unit. Smith and Grace Richardson (1.000 fielding percentage) behind the plate for the top-flight battery. When Smith is not pitching, Lawson takes over the mound duties.

Smith is a fine fielder at first and the "strong up the middle" theory is a key for Bluefield with Grace Richardson behind the plate, Smith pitching, Abby Richardson at short and speedy Taylor Mabry (also a .455 hitter) in center. A pair of outstanding all-sport athletes, Brown and Matthews (.343) flank her in the outfield.

"We have great senior leadership," says Hall, and we try to force mistakes by aggressive play. These girls have always had the goal of going upstate and now the goal is to win when they get there."

Bluefield has made the adaptation a smooth one. In 2023, Reed's runners rolled to a school-record 25 wins.

"We have had a season cut short because we did not get to play as many games as last year," notes Grace Richardson.

"So, we had to prove to ourselves that we could do what we needed to this year. We stepped up where we had to. Izzy has learned to trust our defense and she has worked hard to improve."

Sister Abby adds, "We have all worked on our defense and tried to keep mistakes to a minimum. We work together real well and no matter what, we keep playing hard. Having Grace behind the plate has been a real plus for us as a team."

Hall is proud of his team and has been looking at Keyser as a top-flight opponent.

"Their pitcher (Rylee Wingold) is very good," he says. "She throws different velocities, has a fine fastball and a very good changeup. Believe me, she will be a challenge. Keyser is one of those teams that is hungry and never gives up no matter what the score is."

Keyser coach Colton Jones says, "We (team) have been so close, with two of the last three regional playoffs going to the third game. We made it and it would be such a boost for our school and community to see this all the way through."

Reed, who gave up the position last year to move closer to his home in Bristol, says, "This is a tremendous group of athletes. They are intelligent and want to win. We set a goal to improve, become a revenue sport and do what I call 'do better with less' because this team has just about exactly enough players to give lots of playing time and become familiar with each other."

Now the Beavers hope to reach the goal Hall says they set years ago and bring home a trophy.