|Oh No, Not Again.....|
|Written by Mike Kelly|
|Friday, 28 March 2014 12:06|
That best describes the fortunes of the Watauga High baseball team of late. The Pioneers, who committed eight errors in their last Northwestern 3A/4A Conference game on March 21 against Hibriten, followed that up with six more on Thursday night in a 9-7 loss at Morganton-Patton.
The loss drops WHS (4-6 overall; 2-3 NW3A/4A Conference) into fifth place in the conference standings; the win moves Patton (7-3; 3-2) into a three-way tie for third place. Making matters worse, the Pioneers are mired in a three-game losing streak and they've lost five of their last six games.
Ironically, the Panthers committed five errors of their own. And two of those miscues fueled a four-run uprising by the Pioneers in the top of the first inning. Hunter Isaacs, whose been in a terrible slump, highlighted the inning with a two-run single.
But the Pioneers returned the favor as they committed two errors of their own and coughed up three runs in the bottom of the first.
"I can't remember the last time we played this bad on defense," said WHS coach Pete Hardee. "We're just not making the plays. I don't know what else to say. It's frustrating, but we have to work our way out of it."
The Panthers eventually took a 5-4 lead with two runs in the third. A run-scoring single by Will Kirk, who was a thorn in WHS' side all night (he was 3-4 with three RBI), tied up the game with a run-scoring single, and a wild pitch by starting pitcher Matt Lambert plated the go-ahead run.
But WHS responded with three runs of its own in the top of the fourth. And all of the damage came with two outs. An error, a ground-rule double by Jesse Illich and a two-run single by Utah Jones handed WHS a 6-5 lead. A run-scoring single by Carson Isaacs scored Jones to make it, 7-5.
But the lead was shortlived as the Panthers came charging back and grabbed the lead for good with a three-run rally in the bottom of the fourth.
Logan Pearson knocked Lambert out of the game with a lead-off homer to make it 7-6. And the Panthers completed their comeback with a pair of runs against Jones (1-2), who suffered his second loss in a row.
A single, a walk, a wild pitch and a pair of stolen bases set the stage for Kirk, who belted a two-run single that gave the Panthers an 8-7 lead.
"I wasn't real worried when we fell behind like we did," said Patton coach Jon Browning. "It was early and we still had a lot of at bats left. The guys just chipped away and we eventually pulled it out. But it wasn't pretty."
"We're not playing very smart baseball right now," Hardee said. "And that takes nothing away from Patton. But when you've got two strikes on a hitter, at least when I pitched, you came inside and backed him off the plate. Then you came at him with a curve on the outside corner. But we just put two fastballs right down the middle with two stirkes, and they jumped on them."
Winning pitcher, sophomore Payton Mull, and senior Brock Toner, who came on in relief in the fifth, shut the door on WHS. Mull carried the Panthers into the fourth inning before he departed. He coughed up seven runs, all unearned, on seven hits; Toner tossed three scoreless innings and struck out six to pick up the save.
"I'm real proud of Payton," Browning said. "He showed a lot of maturity for a sophomore. We didn't play very well behind him tonight, but he toughed it out."
"(Mull and Toner) did a heck of a job," Hardee said. "(Mull) kept us off balance and (Toner) was nasty. But we did make seven hits. That's at least a bright spot about tonight. Maybe, we'll finally start swinging the bats a little better. And we better start hitting the ball better, especially if we keep playing defense like this."
The Pioneers had a chance to tie the game in the sixth. A lead-off walk to pinch-hitter Clay Mizner and an error put pinch-runner Jeffrey Gainey at second base with nobody out. But Toner shut the door as he retired the next three batters, including two by strikeout.
"We're just not playing well right now," Hardee said. "We're struggling in every way possible. I'm not giving up on this group. We've got a good team here. But it just isn't coming together right now."
Today's game with Hickory has been postponed. The game will be played Monday. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. on AM 1450, WATA and GoBlueridge.net.
NOTES: Patton defeated WHS 11-1 in the junior varsity game.
PATTON 9, WATAUGA 7
SOUTH CALDWELL 2, FRED T. FOARD 0
ST. STEPHENS 4, FREEDOM 1
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