For those who were wondering just how good Watauga High senior Ryder Jones really was, well, they got a good look at his talents on a brisk Friday afternoon at Washam Field in Hickory, N.C. The right hander, who transferred in from Stillwater,
OK., when his father, Billy Jones, was named the new baseball coach at Appalachian State University last summer, went six innings, scattered two hits and struck out a season-high 13 men as the Pioneers finally cracked the win column with a 6-0 victory against the Red Tornadoes in a Northwestern 3A/4A Conference game.
Jones was in command from the start. He struck out the side in the first inning, and he only allowed five men to reach base.
"It feels good to be in a groove, and to help us get the win," Jones said. "We really needed this one to get us going. I got in front of the hitters tonight and took care of business. I went with the slider today to get ahead, and the fastball was working, too. I tried to keep my pitch count down, so I could help us win. I saved myself a bit. I went six innings and felt good."
"He was cruising from the fourth through the sixth innings," said WHS coach Pete Hardee. "The guy knows how to pitch. He was saving himself. He's a smart pitcher. He was spotting his pitches today. We tried to keep him at 75 to 80 pitches today. But when he gets his arm strong and in shape, he's really going to pitch it."
The Pioneers (1-3 overall; 1-1 NW3A/4A) jumped on top by scoring three times in the third inning. A two base error by Hickory center fielder Bryson Stirewalt, who dropped Mason Illich's fly ball, plated two runs and gave Jones all the run support he needed. Tyler Sturgill also had a run-scoring double in the frame that gave WHS a 3-0 lead.
"(Losing pitcher Coan McAlpine) got a little wild in the third inning and we, fortunately, took advantage of it," Hardee said. "Ryder took care of business from there."
Four walks, one intentional, and that costly error by Stirewalt fueled WHS' rally. Hickory (3-2; 0-1) made three errors in the game. WHS added to its lead on Clay Mizner's two-run single in the sixth; Jesse Illich closed out the scoring with an RBI single in the seventh.
The Pioneers also won their first game at Washam Field in three years. The last time WHS beat Hickory on the road was in 2010 with Cal Hardee on the mound.
"I'm not too worried about myself getting the win," Jones said. "The important thing is that we won the game. Hopefully, this is the one that gets us going. It's been tough with the cold weather and all. We haven't been on the field much, but I'm getting use to the conditions up here."
Tyler Jones finished up with a perfect inning in the seventh. Ryder Jones was 1-3 with a double and a run scored; Sturgill was 1-4 with a double and an RBI; Jesse Illich was 2-3 with an RBI; Carson Isaacs was 1-4; Mizner was 1-2 with a walk and two RBI. WHS made six hits on the day.
"We still aren't swinging the bats that well, but it was enough to get the job done," Hardee said. "But I really still felt that we took the field tonight expecting to be the underdog, And I told them after the first inning, 'We're not an underdog in this game. Let's get after it and get a job done.' We swung the bat today, and we had some smart at bats. Ryan Jones, Max Linnville, and the guys we had last year are gone. It's a matter of these guys stepping up. Their seniors, and it's their job to get us going. They're the ones that are accountable."
The Pioneers travel to Mocksville to play Davie County in a non-conference game Tuesday night. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. on Classic Hits 100-7 FM.
NORTHWESTERN 3A/4A CONFERENCE
WATAUGA 6, HICKORY 0
SOUTH CALDWELL 5, ST. STEPHENS 1
ALEXANDER CENTRAL 3, FRED T. FOARD 0
HIBRITEN - BYE
HICKORY v. CORNELIUS-HOUGH AT L.P. FRAN STADIUM
ALEXANDER CENTRAL @ PROVIDENCE
SOUTH CALDWELL @ WEST CALDWELL
NORTHWESTERN 3A/4A CONFERENCE STANDINGS
ALEXANDER CENTRAL 2-0; 4-0
HIBRITEN 1-0; 3-1
WATAUGA 1-1; 1-3
FRED T. FOARD 1-1; 3-2
SOUTH CALDWELL 1-1; 2-1
HICKORY 0-1; 3-2
ST. STEPHENS 0-2; 2-2