The Watauga High baseball team is on a roll. The Pioneers bounced back from Wednesday's disappointing loss by knocking off Providence in a double header sweep Saturday afternoon at Smith Stadium/Beaver Field on the campus of Appalachian State University.
The Pioneers (7-10), who have won five of their last six games, defeated Providence 13-3 in six innings in game one. Leading 6-3, the Pioneers scored seven runs in the sixth inning to break game open. The game was called because of the ten-run mercy rule.
The Pioneers followed that up with an impressive comeback win in game two. They rallied from an 8-2 deficit to win the night cap 9-8 in nine innings. Ryder Jones won it with a walk-off, solo home run to lead off the ninth. But it was a six-run, two-out rally in the seventh inning that set the stage for Jones' ninth-inning heroics.
Carson Isaacs and Hunter Isaacs ignited the rally with a pair of two-run doubles in the frame. The Pioneers scored six runs on just four hits. They also took advantage of three walks.
"It was a huge rally in the seventh inning," WHS coach Pete Hardee said. "I told them when they came in the dug out that I felt they had one good rally left in them. I am so proud of them. Trailing 8-2, we could have settled for the split. But they battled and came up with some big hits. We showed a lot of heart with that rally."
"We feel so confident right now," Ryder Jones said. "We feel we can beat anybody in the state. We beat a quality team today in Providence. It's awesome to beat Providence twice, and to win this game for the guys."
It was Jones' second home run of the day and his team-leading sixth of the year. He blasted a two-run shot in the opener that highlighted a four-run frame. The Pioneers have scored 59 runs in their last six games.
"Jesse (Illich) really adds a lot to our line up leading off," Ryder Jones said. "We're getting guys on base, and everyone in the line up in contributing. We hitting the ball well, we playing defense and the pitching was outstanding today. We threw strikes today. It's always nice to get that first guy on base. It's nice to have people on base when I come up. I think I walked (four) times today (once intentionally). If they want to put me on base, we've got guys that can hit behind me."
Jesse Illich was 4-5 with two doubles, a triple and three RBI in game one. Illich is hitting .500 (13-26) with four RBI in the last six games. And the Pioneers also had another productive day from the lower part of their batting order. That group (Carson Isaacs, Utah Jones, Hunter Isaacs, and Matt Lambert) produced ten hits and drove in ten runs in the two games combined.
"It was a long day, but it was very productive," Hardee said. "Right now, these guys think they can beat anybody. And I told them after the game that as long as we throw strikes, we can. We're swinging the bats real well right now. We're getting a lot of hits from a lot of people. It was a day of big hits and big plays."
Hunter Isaacs got the start in game one. And the right hander, who made his varsity debut on the mound, was impressive. He tossed three shut out innings, scattered two hit with two stirkeouts. Andrew Miller (1-2) came on in relief in the fourth and picked up his first win of the year.
Tripp Taylor had a marvelous effort in relief in game two. With the Pioneers trailing 8-2, thanks to a five-run fifth inning by the Panthers (10-9), Taylor came on and shut the door. The left hander went four-plus innings, gave up one hit, walked two and struck out three before he departed in the ninth.
"Tripp did a great job carrying us into the ninth inning," Hardee said. "He shut them down and it gave us a chance with that comeback in the seventh. It was a great effort by Tripp. I'm sorry he didn't get the win, but he did a super job in relief."
Ryder Jones came on following a lead-off walk to Austin Proehl in the ninth. Jones had two strikeouts in his one inning of work, and he picked up the win as he helped his own cause with his solo shot leading off the bottom of the ninth. Ironically, the Pioneers had only beaten Providence once before Saturday's double header sweep. Making matters worse, the Panthers, members of the Southwestern 4A Conference, have dropped four in a row.
"We only beat them once until today," Hardee said. "It feels really good. Providence has a great program and a great tradition. This is huge for us with the week we have coming up. We have a lot of momentum right now."
The Pioneers begin a very busy week starting Tuesday night with Alexander Central. The Pioneers will play Fred T. Foard in a make-up game Wednesday, and South Caldwell comes to town on Friday. The Pioneers (2-5 in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference) currently find themselves in sixth place. But they're only 1 1/2 games behind third-place Hickory, a team they've beaten twice this season.
"Things are starting to come together," Ryder Jones said. "We're playing together as a team. It feels great right now."
Coverage of Tuesday's night's game with Alexander Central begins at 6 p.m., on Classic Hits 100.7 FM. Hunter Isaacs is listed as a probable starter for that game. The Cougars begin the night in a first-place tie with South Caldwell in the NW3A/4A.
NORTHWESTERN 3A/4A CONFERENCE
WATAUGA 13-9, PROVIDENCE 3-8
DRAUGHN 5, SOUTH CALDWELL 2