The Watauga High baseball team battled back from a four-run, first-inning deficit and defeated Hibriten 11-5 Friday night in a Northwestern 3A/4A Conference game in Boone. The win also gives WHS (5-4 overall; 3-2 NW3A/4A) sole possession of third place in the league standings. Hickory, which began the night in a
three-way tie for third place with the Pioneers and the Panthers (3-8; 2-3), had its game at St. Stephens rained out. They will make that game up Monday night (South Caldwell and Alexander Central were rained out. They will play on Monday as well).
Matt Proffitt, who had not given up a run all season in 12-plus innings of work, coughed up four runs, three earned, in the first inning. A two-run double by Cody Saunders and a two-run homer by Dylan Hamby paced the Panthers in the top of the first inning. But Proffitt settled down from there and retired seven in a row during one stretch.
"I guess the way we started the game may have had something to do with Matt's slow start," said WHS coach Pete Hardee. "We bypassed infield warmups tonight, and I guess he didn't really have the proper time to loosen up. But he battled, and that's all that mattered. He kept us in the game, despite the bad start."
Proffitt (2-1) carried WHS into the sixth inning. Ethan Greene finished up with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. And the Pioneers, who have scored 19 runs in their last two games, chipped away and finally broke the game open in the sixth inning. Leading 6-5, WHS, thanks to a throwing error by Hamby that scored David Martin from third base with the go-ahead run in the fifth, scored five times in the sixth. Pinch-hitter Brian Bolster got things started with a lead-off home run, his first of the year and the third by the Pioneers this season. It was a towering drive that cleared the left-center field fence.
"Did Brian hit that ball, or what?" Hardee asked. "He didn't know it was out until he was making his way to second base and saw me going crazy. He usually works the count deep. But he saw something he liked, and he crushed it."
"I like going after the first pitch, if it's to my liking," Bolster said. "But I usually like to take my time up there. We have a lot of confidence on this team. Even though we fell behind by four runs early, we knew we could come back because of the bats we have on this team."
That blow gave WHS a 7-5 lead. Tyler Jones and Ethan Critcher provided some insurance with a pair of clutch, two-out hits. Jones had a two-run single that made it 9-5; Critcher's two-run double made it, 11-5.
"It's nice to bounce back like we did," said WHS senior David Martin. "We gave one away the other night (at South Caldwell). Matt did a great job on the mound. And what about Bolster. He's one of the crusty veterans on this team. He works real hard in practice, and he doesn't get any glory. But he was the man tonight with that home run. It's a huge win for us."
"Bolster, Brian Miller, Chandler Bakken, Jacob Gainey are the crusty veterans on this team," Hardee said. "Those guys work their tails off in practice every day for four years. They don't get to play much, but when they get that chance, they make the most of it."
Martin had a hit, got on base four times and scored four runs; Proffitt continued his hot pace at the plate, going 2-3 with a double, an intentional walk and two runs scored; Max Linnville had two hits; the Pioneers had ten hits as a team. The win also leaves WHS two games behind first-place South Caldwell, and just one-half game behind St. Stephens for second place.
"Our goal is to finish ahead of Alexander Central and make the state playoffs," Hardee said. "That's our mind set right now. If we get back in the race, that's great. We just have to keep playing hard and get better. The goal is making the state playoffs. Everything before that is preparation for it. But we fell behind by four runs tonight and we battled back to win. It wasn't real pretty, but it was a solid win. Our hitting is starting to come around, our pitching needs to be a little more consistent, but this group is fun to watch."
Saunders was Hibriten's most productive hitter with a single, a double and two runs-batted-in. Both teams also made three errors apiece. The Pioneers take on Providence down in Charlotte today; then it's off to St. Stephens Tuesday night. Our coverage of the St. Stephens game begins at 6 p.m. on Oldies 100.7 FM. Greene will get the starting nod for the Pioneers.
NOTES: The JV team blew a 3-0 lead, but rallied to beat Hibriten 6-5 Friday night, thanks to a three-run rally in the bottom of the sixth. The JV team is 3-2 in the NW3A/4A and 4-5 overall......The Pioneers have beaten Hibriten five consecutive times since the teams joined the NW3A/4A Conference in 2009-10.
FRIDAY NIGHT'S GAMES
WATUAGA 11, HIBRITEN 5
HICKORY @ ST. STEPHENS (RAINED OUT)
SOUTH CALDWELL @ ALEXANDER CENTRAL (RAINED OUT)
FRED T. FOARD - BYE
WATAUGA @ PROVIDENCE
SOUTH CALDWELL @ ALEXANDER CENTRAL
HICKORY @ ST. STEPHENS
WATAUGA @ ST. STEPHENS
ALEXANDER CENTRAL @ HIBRITEN
FRED T. FOARD @ HICKORY
SOUTH CALDWELL - BYE
NORTHWESTERN 3A/4A CONFERENCE STANDINGS
SOUTH CALDWELL 5-0; 9-0
ST. STEPHENS 3-1; 7-2
WATAUGA 3-2; 5-4
HICKORY 2-2; 7-2
HIBRITEN 2-3; 3-8
FRED T. FOARD 1-4; 4-6
ALEXANDER CENTRAL 0-4; 3-7