The Watauga High baseball team survived and advanced Wednesday night by knocking off McDowell 8-6 in 11 innings in the opening round of the NCHSAA Class 4A state playoffs in Marion, N.C.
Stedman Sauls and Hunter Isaacs put WHS (14-13) in the winner's circle with back-to-back, two-out, run-scoring doubles in the top of the 11th. The Pioneers, who won their first post-season game in two years, will now play South Mecklenburg (19-8) in the second round at home Saturday at 7 p.m. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on AM 1450, WATA and GoBlueridge.net. The Sabres, the No.3 seed from the South Meck 4A Conference, defeated Cornelius-Hough 5-2 Wednesday night.
The Pioneers, who played their longest game of the year (it took three-hours and three-minutes) also got their sweet revenge against McDowell (13-10), which knocked them out of the state playoffs last season (the Titans had a better winning percentage), snapping WHS' six-year run in the state playoffs.
"I struggled with my hitting tonight," said Sauls, who was named the Most Valuable Player in the Northwestern 3A-4A Conference Tournament last Friday. "But (losing pitcher Landon Whitson) threw me a fastball up and in. And that's my pitch. I just drove it down the left-field line."
"Their left fielder (Justin Ramsey) was playing off the line," said WHS coach Pete Hardee. "I was hoping we could hit one down the line, and we finally got it done in the 11th. It was a tough game against a tough team. I could tell when we got on the field, they were going to be scrappy. Win and survive, that's what you've got to do right now. And we did that."
The Pioneers, who pounded out 15 hits, left 12 men on base, including ten in scoring position. They left seven men on base, five in scoring position, between the eighth and tenth innings.
"But we finally got to string some hits together," Hunter Isaacs said. "We left a lot of guys on base, especially in extra innings. But we never got down on ourselves. Stedman got a huge hit to give us the lead, and I wanted to give Utah (Jones) some insurance."
Jones (3-5 with two saves), who came on in relief for Hunter Isaacs in the bottom of the seventh, picked up the win. The right hander, who coughed up the tying run on Trevor Newman's two-run single during McDowell's three-run rally in the seventh, won his second straight decision.
He gave up a earned run on two hits with six strikeouts in 4.2 innings. And the WHS bullpen continued its mastery in the post-season. The Pioneers have given up just one earned run in their last three appearances, (that includes a stretch of 18 innings).
"We're throwing strikes and we're making plays," Jones said. "It's a simple formula. We're refocused. It was nice to win the conference tournament, but we can't dwell on it. We want to make a run in the state playoffs, and winning this game is a good start."
"Having Utah on the mound really makes our infield stronger," Hardee said. "He does a very good job fielding his position. He made a couple of big plays out there that allowed us to stay in contention."
Jones turned a 1-6-3 double play, and he also threw out a runner at second base in the seventh inning with the game tied at 6-6, forcing extra innings.
Hunter Isaacs, who got the starting nod Wednesday night, had it in cruise control and carried the Pioneers into the seventh inning before he ran out of gas. The Pioneers gave him a 6-3 lead with three runs in the top of the seventh. Carson Isaacs, who was 2-5 with three RBI, had a two-run single in the seventh.
But Isaacs ran into trouble in the bottom of the seventh. A lead-off double by Ramsey got the rally started for McDowell. A one-out walk to Dakota Lister, knocked him out of the game. Center fielder Andy Morris, who cut down two runners at the plate Wednesday night, greeted Jones with an RBI single, making it 6-4; Newman followed with his two-run single to tie the game.
Isaacs went 6.1 innings and gave up five runs, four earned, on four hits with a four walks and six strikeouts. After coughing two runs in the bottom of the second, Isaacs settled down and retired seven men in a row during one stretch.
"I just got a little tired in the seventh inning," Isaacs said. "I really wanted to finish this game. But Utah came on and got the job done. Utah was a little down after he coughed up those runs in the bottom of the seventh, but we told him we'd get those runs back, and we did."
Isaacs was 3-6 wityh a pair of doubles and an RBI; Jesse Illich went 4-5 with a double, an RBI, and two runs scored. Jones was 2-5 with a walk, a stolen base and an RBI. Morris paced McDowell going 2-5 with an RBI; Newman had a two-run single and designated hitter Devin Lackey had a two-run single in the second inning.
NOTES: The Pioneers made their first trip to Marion since 2009....The Pioneers are 10-16 (.625 batting average) with runners in scoring position and two outs in their last four games. The Pioneers drove in five runs Wednesday night with two outs.....Jeffrey Gainey has been listed as the probable starter for Saturday's game against South Meck. It will be the second meeting ever between the schools. The Sabres, led by current Ardey Kell coach Hal Bagwell, defeated WHS 3-1 in the Western Finals at the old Pioneer Field in 1999.
NORTHWESTERN 3A-4A CONFERENCE
WATAUGA 8, McDOWELL 6, 11 INNINGS
SOUTH CALDWELL 4, MOORESVILLE 3
LAWNDALE-BURNS 1, HICKORY 0
ASHEVILLE 3, FRED T. FOARD 2
PIEDMONT 3, PATTON 0
WEST STOKES 4, ASHE COUNTY 0
MOORESVILLE-PINE LAKE PREP 4, AVERY 2
ASHEVILLE-ROBERSON 7, WATAUGA 0
SOUTH CALDWELL 11, MOORESVILLE 5
FREEDOM 6, MARVIN RIDGE 3
NORTH BUNCOMBE 11, ST. STEPHENS 3
KINGS MOUNTAIN 4, PATTON 0
FRED T. FOARD 7, PIEDMONT 4
CHARLOTTE-OLYMPIC 3, WATAUGA 1
GREENSBORO-GRIMSLEY 4, SOUTH CALDWELL 0
COX MILL 5, FREEDOM 0
HICKORY 4, WEST ROWAN 0
PIEDMONT 3, ST. STEPHENS 1
FRED T. FOARD 2, SOUTHWESTERN RANDOLPH 1
ASHE COUNTY 7, LEXINGTON 0
AVERY 5, STARMOUNT 0