One thing is for sure, never underestimate a Pete Hardee coached team. The Watauga High baseball team proved that on Saturday against Charlotte-Providence. Coming off a disappointing loss Friday night at Fred T. Foard, the Pioneers (3-3), who have lost two in a row, gave Providence (8-0) all it could handle. But in the
end, the Panthers escaped with a 5-3 win. And Josh Hiatt of the Panthers was primarily responsible for that.
His solo home run in the third snapped a 2-2 tie, and put Providence on top to stay. His acrobatic catch in the fifth prevented the tying run from crossing the plate.
Leading 4-2 with two outs, Utah Jones of the Pioneers was hit by a pitch and kept the inning alive. A stolen base and a run-scoring single by Carson Isaacs cut the lead to one at 4-3. Hunter Isaacs walked, and the Pioneers had two men on and the tying run in scoring position with Matt Lambert due up.
But Lambert was denied by Hiatt, who stretched out and snared his line drive to end the inning.
"I really thought it was through, but the guy made a great play," said WHS coach Pete Hardee. "Matt hit it hard, but the guy made a great catch."
The Panthers added an insurance run in the sixth as freshman Jason Garfinkel, pinch-hitting for Matt Ball, slapped a single into right field that gave the Panthers their two-run cushion.
An infield single, a hit batsman and a stolen base by courtesy runner Rowan Bryant created the scoring chance.
Austin Leonard, despite some anxious moments, went six innings and got the win. He gave up three runs all earned, on six hits. He struck out five, walked one, and he also hit two batters. Tommy Dejuneas came on in the seventh and nailed it down. He also survived a scare.
Utah Jones, who was WHS' most productive hitter on Saturday---he was 2-3 with three stolen bases, he scored a run and drove in a run---belted one to deep center field with a man on. But Andrew Moritz ran it down just short of the wall. Dejunaes closed it out by getting Carson Isaacs on a weak pop fly to end the game.
"Our goal was to win this game," Hardee said. "But we learned a lot about ourselves. We lost to a quality opponent in a tough place to play. But we saw some good things from our team today. We made some big plays on defense, we hit the ball well, and our pitching was pretty good. Today's game was a good measuring stick for us. Now, we've got to start winning again."
Left hander Tyler Nigro (0-1), making his first start of the season, carried WHS into the fourth inning. He coughed up four runs, but only three were earned. And despite the gopher ball he gave up to Hiatt, Nigro kept the Panthers in check.
Providence was handed a pair of runs, thanks to a misplayed fly ball that turned into a run-scoring double in the first, and a throwing error that plated another run in the fourth.
"If Tyler keeps the ball down, he can be very effective," Hardee said. "He did that consistently last summer. But he got the ball up a couple of times today, and they jumped on it. But overall, I was pleased with our pitching today. Our guys threw pretty well against a heck of a team."
The Panthers were missing three of their top four hitters, who were nursing injuries following an emotional win against arch-rival Ardrey Kell Friday night. But despite missing those guys, the Panthers still made nine hits. Ironically, four of those were infield hits.
"They have the weapons that will test your defense," Hardee said. "They make contact, they have power, and they have speed. But we were in the game. We came out well prepared and focused today. It was a huge improvement over (Friday's 5-0 loss at Fred T. Foard)."
Hunter Isaacs, who has been nursing a pulled pectoral muscle, came on for Nigro in the fourth and worked two scorless innings, giving up just three hits and striking out three.
WHS grabbed a 1-0 lead in top of the first. Consecutive singles by Jesse Illich and Utah Jones put runners on first and second with nobody out. A deep fly to right by Carson Isaacs allowed Illich to reach third base. He scored on Hunter Isaacs' ground ball to short.
But the Panthers answered with two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. A one-out walk, a stolen base, a wild pitch and a misplayed fly ball in left field that turned into a run-scoring double
by Hiatt tied the game. Trevor Rhyne drove in Hiatt with a deep fly ball that eluded Illich on the warning track in center field.
Trailing 2-1, the Pioneers tied the game in the third, thanks to Jones' RBI single.
The Pioneers travel to Morganton-Freedom Tuesday night. Lambert will get the starting nod for WHS. Coverage begins at 6 p.m., on Classic Hits 100.7 FM and GoBlueridge.net.
Photo Courtesy: WHS Coach Pete Hardee, WHS Athletics