The accident occurred around 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 15 on U.S. Route 58 in Russell County, Virginia. The Lady Rams were traveling east in two vans near Castlewood, Virginia, when reportedly a driver traveling west in the eastbound lane struck partially head-on one of the vans carrying members of the Lady Rams softball team.
The second BC van transporting other softball players and equipment was not involved in the accident; however, nine players, an athletic trainer and head coach Shelley Newton traveling in the first van were all injured, treated by first responders on the scene, and then taken to Russell County Medical Center for additional treatment.
“We were very lucky to come out with only a few minor injuries,” said Newton. “The accident put things into perspective and has brought our team and campus community closer together.”
Injuries to the Lady Rams ranged from concussions to shoulder and back trauma to a broken nose, but fortunately all of the players and staff members were treated and released from the hospital in the early morning hours of Sunday, April 16 with follow up visits scheduled for just a few to further monitor their recovery.
“It’s the type of news you never want to hear, and it’s the suppressed thought of something like this happening that is always in the back of everyone’s mind as our teams, other student groups, and staff depart on trips from campus almost daily,” said Bluefield College president Dr. David Olive after receiving the news about the accident. “We are incredibly blessed that no lives were lost and no one was seriously injured.”
Back on campus or with their families for the Easter holiday, the team is mindful of the fragility of life and thankful the accident wasn’t worse than it was, but ready now to return to competition and to their historic season. Through the weekend games with Union College, the Lady Rams had accumulated a school record 24 wins on the season, six more than the school record 18 wins set in 2016.
As the winningest softball team in Bluefield College history, the Lady Rams are averaging 5.24 runs batted in (RBI) per game, the second best in the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) and 33rd best in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). They also have a 96 percent fielding percentage, the best in the AAC and 27th best in the NAIA. In addition, their 21 home runs this season surpasses the total 10 they had in 2016. Their .292 team batting average this year is a significant improvement on the .249 team batting average from a year ago, and the 220 RBI this spring far outpaces the 172 RBI they had in 2016.
On the defensive side, particularly pitching, the Lady Rams have 217 strikeouts this season, compared to just 153 last spring. In fact, they currently hold the record for the most strikeouts thrown in an AAC game this year with 15 Ks in a game against Montreat College on April 7. And, led by seniors Megan Arrington of Fredericksburg, Virginia; Alexandria Bartley of Honaker, Virginia; Baily Garin of Virginia Beach, Virginia; Laura Kincer of Tazewell, Virginia; Kristen Murphy of Chilhowie, Virginia; and Brienna Sparks of Tazewell, Virginia, the team is currently ranked fifth in the latest National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) poll and have been as high as third in the national ranking.
“I am extremely proud of how far this team has come,” said Newton. “They’ve trusted the process from day one and have worked very hard to earn a winning season. I am lucky to have a team that is willing to put their trust in me to lead them, and I give them all the credit for bettering their abilities to help change the culture of this program.”
THE WINNINGEST SOFTBALL TEAM IN BC HISTORY.
Individually, Sparks has an 11-6 win-loss record, 119 strikeouts and a 1.26 earned run average (ERA) in 21 games this season. Her 1.26 ERA is the best amongst all pitchers in the AAC and 16th best amongst all pitchers in the NAIA. Her 119 strikeouts are second best in the AAC and 25th best in the nation. She also averages a league best 7.8 strikeouts per game, which is ninth best in the NAIA. Sparks was also named AAC Pitcher of the Week for the week of March 20, a first for Lady Rams softball. During a seven-day span, she struck out 15 batters and allowed just six hits and one run during 13 innings of four games pitched.
Junior Kaitlyn Pennington of Chilhowie, Virginia, is the leading hitter on the women’s softball team with a batting average of .409, which is seventh best in the AAC. She holds a slugging percentage of .664, second best in the AAC. Her 44 total runs scored on the season is second best in the AAC and 15th best in the NAIA. She also leads the league in average total bases per game at 2.3 and is second best in the conference in runs scored per game, third best in hits per game, sixth best in home runs, and fourth best in stolen bases.
“The chemistry on this team has played a big role in the success of this season,” said Newton. “We all knew that the respect from other teams would have to be earned by proving we can compete with anyone, and I believe we’ve proven that.”
Six remaining games on the Lady Rams regular season schedule have been postponed in light of the accident and injuries, but the team is looking forward to the post-season AAC tournament the first of May and a possible bid to play in the NCCAA National Tournament in mid-May.
“The girls are strong, and they will overcome this,” said Newton. “God was definitely watching over us that night, and we are all thankful to be able to move on from the incident.”
HEAD COACH SHELLEY NEWTON
SENIOR BRIENNA SPARKS