The Watauga High baseball team did everything it could to win Wednesday night's non-conference game against North Davidson at Pioneer Field. Unfortunately, WHS' (5-10) best weapon, its pitching
staff, lost its touch in a 10-9 loss.
The Pioneers, who were boasting a 2.50 team earned-run-average coming into Wednesday's match with the Black Knights, handed out six walks and hit four batters. The loss also snapped WHS' season-high three-game winning streak.
The Black Knights (13-4), who have won three in a row and six of their last seven games, took advantage of the situation as they wiped out an early 6-0, first inning deficit to win the game. C.J. Rice drove in the game winning run with an RBI single in the top of the seventh.
"I feel we won every facet of the game tonight," said WHS coach Pete Hardee. "Our defense was sharp. we hit the ball with power, and we scored enough runs to win the game. But we couldn't throw strikes. And when you hand out free passes like we did tonight, especially against a good team like North Davidson, they're going to take advantage of it."
The Black Knights scored a run in the fifth without the benefit of a base hit; they scored four times in the sixth on just two hits to take a 9-7 lead. The Pioneers coughed up two walks and hit a batter in the fifth; they gave up three walks in the sixth.
Tripp Taylor (2-1) suffered the loss in relief; starting pitcher Chance Richards, who left with two outs in the fifth, hit four batters. The Pioneers utilized five pitchers in Wednesday's setback.
"It wasn't a typical game for us on the mound," Hardee said. "We're better than that. This was our poorest outing of the year for sure. I told them after the game, 'the offense did a great job, the defense was good, but the pitching staff just let us down.' We just gave this one away."
Nothing new, really. The Pioneers have blown numerous early leads this season. And they have six one-run losses and two extra-inning losses to show for it.
"That's why I like playing teams like this," Hardee said. "They really test and measure your talent. You've got to play well to beat teams like this. And we did play well tonight. We should have won the game. North Davidson is a very good team, and Mike (Meadows) is an excellent coach, but we gave them this game."
The Pioneers, who erupted for 29 runs in their last three games, continued their torrid pace by scoring six times in the first inning. Twelve men batted in the frame. Ryder Jones had a two-run double and Carson Isaacs had a three-run triple to highlight the inning.
Starting pitcher Bailey Garfield coughed up six consecutive hits before he got the hook. Max Royal came on in relief, and the right hander kept WHS in check.
He coughed up a run on two hits through his five-inning stint. Jack O'Neal (1-0) took over in the sixth, and despite some shakey moments, the right hander picked up his first win of the year. He coughed up a lead-off triple to Mason Illich in the bottom of the sixth, and a two-out, two-run homer to Tyler Sturgill that tied the game, 9-9. That two-run shot was Sturgill's second home run of the season.
But it wasn't meant to be as the Black Knights pushed the winning run across in the top of the seventh against Taylor. Eric Morrow, who ignited North Davidson's four-run rally in the sixth with a lead-off double, led off the seventh with a sharp single to right field.
A sacrifice and a one-out single by Chase Mitchell put runners at first and third, setting the stage for Rice. WHS threatened in the bottom of the seventh, but with runners at first and second and two outs, shortstop Drew Beaver ran down Mason Illich's hot smash up the middle and forced Ryder Jones at second base to end the game.
"(Beaver) just made a great play," Hardee said. "But we gave ourselves a chance in the bottom of the seventh, and that's all I can ask for. We've come to expect games like this when we play North Davidson. It's developed into a pretty good rivarly between our schools. But I think I've found another pitcher in Hunter Isaacs. He showed me something in the seventh. He threw strikes. I'm going to give him another shot on the mound."
The Pioneers take on Charlotte-Providence at home Saturday in a varsity-only double header. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m., on Classic Hits 100.7 FM.
NOTES: The two teams combined hit eight batters (4 apeice) in Wednesday night's game.....The Pioneers and the Black Knights have scored 52 runs combined in their last three meetings....Hunter Isaacs, who began the year going 0-7, has four hits, including a double, and two RBI in his last two games....Since he moved into the lead-off spot on April 3, junior Jesse Illich is batting .500 (8-16) with a double, six runs scored, two walks, two stolen bases with an RBI.
NORTHWESTERN 3A/4A CONFERENCE BASEBALL
NORTH DAVIDSON 10. WATAUGA 9
HIBRITEN 3, PATTON 2
HIBRITEN @ WILKES CENTRAL
ST. STEPHENS @ HIBRITEN
ALEXANDER CENTRAL @ HICKORY
SOUTH CALDWELL @ FRED T. FOARD
WATAUGA - BYE
CHARLOTTE-PROVIDENCE @ WATAUGA (DH)
DRAUGHN @ SOUTH CALDWELL