The Watauga High baseball team, despite some anxious moments, hung on to beat A.C. Reynolds 8-6 in its season opener Thursday afternoon at Davis Field in Asheville, N.C.


Winning pitcher Hunter Isaacs (1-0) went 4 1/3 innings and picked up the win. The right hander coughed up five earned runs on six hits with three walks and three strikeouts. Jeffrey Gainey, who made his varsity debut, closed things out with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to pick up his first career save. Jesse Illich actually saved the day with a running over-the-shoulder catch in center field with a runner on base in the bottom of the seventh.


"What a play by Jesse," WHS coach Pete Hardee said. "That ball was hit hard, and it looked like trouble, but Jesse made a great play. And our defense, especially when you consider we've only been outside three times this season, was pretty solid. It was a great win."


The Pioneers were flawless defensively as they didn't make an error on cold, blustery afternoon. Illich also had a great day at the plate. He was 2-4 with a double and three runs-batted-in; Adam Greene was 2-4 with a solo home run and two RBIs. His solo shot in the top of the seventh padded WHS' lead going into the bottom half of the seventh. Carson Isaacs was 3-4 with a double and an RBI.


"Those guys had a big day for us offensively," Hardee said. "We have to get production from a lot of different people this season. We don't have guys like Ryder (Jones, now playing in the San Francisco Giants organization) and Tyler Sturgill, who gave us a lot of power in the lineup last year. But I like what we have this season. I feel we have seven or eight guys that can produce."


The Pioneers (1-0) also broke a three-game losing streak at Davis Field. But leading 7-3 in the bottom of the fifth, the Pioneers survived a late rally by the Rockets (0-1).


They scored twice in the fifth, thanks to an RBI single by Bryce Hensley and a bases-loaded walk, that made it 7-5; they tacked on another run in the sixth on a Cory Watt's triple and an infield single by Dustin Owenby that ricocheted off Ian Watt's right leg, scoring Watt from third, making it, 7-6.


But some nifty work out of the bullpen saved WHS. Ian Watts, who like Gainey made his varsity debut, pitched out of a bases-loaded jam with a pair of strikeouts in the fifth; Gainey came on and put out another fire with two outs in the sixth.


"We pushed it a little bit taking Hunter into the fifth inning today," Hardee said. "It's cold and it's hard to get loose on a cold day like this. But Ian and Jeffrey Gainey came on and got the job done. They battled in there and got us the win. This is a tough place to play. We've had our share of problems here. I can't count the times we went into the late innings and eventually lost the game."


The Rockets grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on an RBI single by Jared Green, who was a thorn in WHS' side on Thursday afternoon. Green was 2-2 with a pair of walks and three RBIs. But the Pioneers responded by scoring four times in the top of the second. A scratch hit and a costly error with two outs allowed the tying run to score; Illich put WHS on top to stay with a two-run double moments later.


Leading 4-3 in the top of the fourth, WHS tacked on two more runs. An error and and RBI single by Illich made it 6-3; and Greene's run-scoring scratch hit in the top of the fifth, gave WHS what seemed like a comfortable 7-3 lead before the Rockets made things interesting.


Hensley (0-1) suffered the loss for ACR. The left hander coughed up six runs, only one earned, in three-plus innings with seven strikeouts. But he was victimized by a pair of throwing errors by second baseman Trevor STockhausen that led to WHS' big innings.


"It's only one game, but we picked up a win on the road," Hardee said. "And we did it in a place where we've struggled in the past. It's a good start, but we still have a lot of things to work on."


The Pioneers travel to Alexander Central Saturday. Illich gets the starting nod. Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. on AM 1450, WATA and