The Watauga High baseball team pulled off a dramatic comeback Saturday afternoon and defeated Southamnpton Academy from Portland, Va., to win the Tarboro Easter Classic at Municipal Stadium.
WHS (10-11), riding a three-game winning streak, scored seven runs in the bottom of the seventh, wiping out a 7-1 deficit, to beat the Raiders 8-7 in Saturday's championship game. Senior Clay Mizner, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, belted a two-run single into left field that won it for WHS.
Hunter Isaacs, who was on second base when Mizner singled, was waved around by WHS coach Pete Hardee. The throw by left fielder Nate Williams was on the mark, but catcher Matt Rose dropped the ball when he applied the tag, allowing Isaacs to score the winning run.
"I really thought (Isaacs) was going to get thrown out," Hardee said. "But I had to take the gamble on that play. The lower part of the order was coming up, and we had all ready tied it up. It was a great finish. I told our guys going into the bottom of the seventh, 'This isn't over. We still have a chance.'"
And it was only fitting that Mizner capped off an excellent day at the plate with his game-winning hit. Mizner, who got picked off in the fourth inning and made an error in the top of the seventh, was 3-3 with a walk and three runs-batted-in.
"It's an honor to be named MVP," Mizner said. "They made up for my mistakes. It's a big win for us. We always seem to get ourselves turned around at Easter time. It happened last year (when the Pioneers put together a ten-game winning streak). Hopefully, we can do it again this year."
"Clay came through for us today." Hardee said. "Those hits were huge in the seventh. And I'm proud of the way our guys responded. We had some great at bats in the seventh inning. We put the ball in play and it gave us a chance. And with the season we've had, I'm very proud of this team. They stayed focused, and we found a way to win this game."
WHS became the first school from western North Carolina to win the Tarboro Easter Classic (which began in 1994), and the Pioneers handed Hardee his first Easter tournament championship since he took over as head coach in 1996.
"Tournaments are special," Hardee said. "It gives our team a chance to get away, a chance to bond together, and to see some different teams. This was a great win for our guys. It's special, and hopefully it gives us some moementum heading into the final week of the regular season and the (Northwestern 3A-4A) confernece tournament."
But things didn't seem very rosy following a five-run outburst by the Raiders (18-2) in the top of the seventh. A walk, a hit batter and Mizner's error aided the rally. It also gave Southampton a commanding 7-1 lead heading into the bottom of the inning.
But the Pioneers responded by loading the bases with one out. A lead-off walk to Colby Illich, Mizner's single and a base hit by Stedman Sauls ignited the rally. Jesse Illich, who was named to the all-tournament team, drove in WHS' first run with an infield single. Justin Greer followed and walked with the bases loaded to make it 7-3.
Carson Isaacs belted a two-run single to right field that made it 7-5. Hunter Isaacs had a run-scoring single one out later that scored Carson Isaacs, making it 7-6. Colby Illich walked for a second time in the inning, loaded the bases with two outs, and setting the stage for Mizner.
"My heart was really pounding fast when I came up to bat," Mizner said. "I was a little nervous, but I just went up there to make contact. (Losing pitcher Andrew Lowe) threw me a fast ball, and I made contact. That's all I can say. At least I put the ball in play. But this was a great team win for us. Everybody that played had a part in it."
In all, 11 men batted in the bottom of the seventh. And the Pioneers roughed up Southampton's starting pitcher Jacob Holland for six runs on seven hits. Holland, who came in with a 6-0 record and a 0.62 earned-run-average, left the game after Carson Isaacs'
Holland struck out seven, but he also walked five men and he also hit a batter. Lowe took the loss in relief. Hunter Isaacs got the start for WHS and carried his team into the seventh inning. The right hander, who got bailed out by his teammates, gave up five runs, four earned, on eight hits with three walks and four strikeouts.
Matt Lambert came on in relief and registered a strikeout before he coughed up a two runs on two hits. Jeffrey Gainey (1-1), the third pitcher used by Hardee on Saturday afternoon, got the final out in the top of the seventh and picked up his first win of the year.
"Hunter's a gamer," Hardee said. "He pitched well, and he didn't want to come out. I like that mentality in a pitcher. Lambo just didn't have it today. He threw a lot of pitches (against Tarboro Thursday nigyht). He was tired. But Gainey stopped the bleeding, and we just found a way to get it done."
Lambert and Hunter Isaacs joined Jesse Illich on the all-tournament team. the Pioneers return to NW3A-4A Conference play Tuesday night at Hickory. Coverage of that game begins at 6 p.m. on Classic Hits 100.7 FM and GoBlueridge.net.
NORTHWESTERN 3A-4A CONFERENCE
Watauga 8, Taboro 7
Asheville-Roberson 4, Patton 3
Draughn 9, South Caldwell 8
South Caldwell (4A) 10-2; 17-3
Fred T. Foard 10-2; 15-5
Patton 8-4; 12-6
Hibriten 7-5; 11-8
Hickory 6-6; 10-9
Watauga (4A) 4-8; 9-11
St. Stephens 2-10; 4-14
Freedom 1-11; 7-14
Freedom at St. Stephens, 7 p.m.
Fred T. Foard at S. Caldwell, 7 p.m.
Hibriten at Patton, 7 p.m.
Watauga at Hickory, 7 p.m.
McDowell at Freedom
Hickory at Hibriten, 7 p.m.
Patton at Freedom, 7 p.m.
St. Stephens at Fred T. Foard, 7 p.m.
South Caldwell at Watauga, 7 p.m.
END OF CONFERENCE SCHEDULE
Photo Courtesy: WHS Tournament Champs, PHOTO SUBMITTED