WHAT: Watauga High v. South Mecklenburg, second-round of the NCHSAA Class 4A state playoffs.
WHERE: Pioneer Field, Saturday night 7 p.m.
COVERAGE: 6:30 p.m., AM 1450, WATA and GoBlueridge.net
WHS: The PIoneers (14-13), the No.2 seed among the Class 4A schools in the Northwestern 3A-4A Conference, are riding a season-high four game winning streak. They defeated McDowell 8-6 in 11 innings, their longest game of the year (the marathon affair took three hours and three minutes).
And WHS' bullpen has been outstanding in the last four games. The Pioneers have given up one earned run in the last 18 innings (0.39 earned-run-average).
Utah Jones two solid relief performances in his last two outings. He kept South Caldwell scoreless in five-plus innings last Friday night to nail down WHS' fourth NW3A-4A Conference Tournament championship.
He followed that up by holding McDowell to one run in 4.2 innings Wednesday night in the opening round of the state playoffs. Jones has given up just one earned run in ten innings with nine strikeouts and two walks for a 0.70 ERA. And Jones (3-5 with a team-leading two saves) has won his last two decisions after losing five straight.
JEFFREY GAINEY: is the probable starter for WHS Saturday night. The right hander, much like Utah Jones, has been solid of late. He came through with a yeoman effort last Thursday in a 7-0 win against Fred T. Foard in the NW3A-4A semfinals.
Gainey has dropped his ERA to a season-best 3.32. He's 2-1 with a save, and he did a marvelous job handcuffing Foard last week. He went the distance, had a perfect game before Matt Ward broke it up with a two out single in the fourth inning. Gainey has only given up 11 earned runs on 32.2 innings this season with 16 strikeouts and eight walks.
"He's always been a team guy," said WHS coach Pete Hardee. "He's willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. I'm glad he decided to come back after taking last year off. He's been a big part of our pitching staff."
Gainey displayed his moxie in the season opener against A.C. Reynolds. Gainey, who came on in relief and picked up the save. He pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth inning of that game. He came in and struck out Casey Williams and Cody Cauble to squelch the rally.
HITTING IN THE CLUTCH: The Pioneers have picked it up offensively in the post-season. WHS is 10-16 (.625) batting average with runners in scoring position with two outs in the last four games. WHS had five two-out RBI against McDowell Wednesday night.
HOT, HOT, HOT: Since the post-season began, the Pioneers have stepped it up offensively. WHS is batting .318 as a team with three home runs....Hunter Isaacs and Jesse Illich have been WHS' hottest hitters. Isaacs is hitting .375 (6-16) with four doubles, four runs scored, two stolen bases and two RBI; Illich is hitting .438 (7-16) with a double a pair of walks, a stolen base, a sacrifice, two runs scored and four RBI.
SOUTH MECK: The Sabres are 19-8 and the No.3 seed from the newly formed South Meck 4A Conference. The Sabres were members of the Southwestern 4A before realignment last fall.
The Sabres have won two Class 4A state championships in school history. They won the title in 1989, and they captured their second championship last spring. South Meck defeated Fuquay-Varina in a three game series, two games to one.
Head coach Jonathan Tuscan is in his fourth year with the program. He's currently 76-36 with a state championship under his belt.
And the Sabres have been explosive this season. They're averaging 9.03 runs-per-game (they scored 244 runs), they've scored 10 runs or more 12 times this season, and the pitching staff has tossed seven shutouts (South has given up just 81 runs all year).
But despite all those impressive numbers, the Sabres are 4-3 in their last seven games, which includes a 5-2 win against Cornelius-Hough in the opening-round of the state playoffs Wednesday night.
COMMON OPPONENTS: The Pioneers and the Sabres share one common opponent this season in Charlotte-Providence. The Pioneers lost to Providence 5-3 on March 15; the Sabres were 1-2 against the Panthers.
The Panthers defeated South Meck 5-2 back on March 21; the Sabres evened things up by blanking the Panthers 8-0 at home on April 29; Providence got the last laugh besting South Meck 6-3 in the semfinals of the SM-4A Conference Tournament.
ALL-TIME SERIES: This is only the second meeting between the schools. The Sabres defeated WHS 3-1 in the Class 4A Western Finals at the old Pioneer Field in 1999. The Sabres lost the state title to Greenville-Rose that season.
The Sabres were led by Hal Bagwell, like WHS coach Pete Hardee, an Appalachian State University grad, who is currently the head man at Ardrey Kell.
South Meck is 7-4 on the road; WHS is 3-6 at home. The winner of this game will play either Alexander Central or Providence in the sectional finals next Tuesday or Wednesday.
THE LAST TIME THEY DID IT: The last time WHS beat a Charlotte-area school in the state playoffs, Charlotte-Olympic in 2011 at App State's Smith Stadium/Beaver Field.
UP NEXT: The winner of this game will play either Alexander Central or Charlotte-Providence in the sectional finals next Tuesday or Wednesday.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT (LATE)
FRED T. FOARD 7, PIEDMONT 4
FRED T. FOARD 2. SOUTHWESTERN RANDOLPH 1
AVERY 10, HIGHLAND TECH 8
Asheville-Roberson (15-9) @ South Caldwell (22-5), 7 p.m.
South Mecklenburg (19-8) @ Watauga (14-13), 7 p.m.
Charlotte Catholic (12-9) @ South Caldwell (22-1), 7 p.m.
Fred T. Foard (10-11) @ West Rowan (18-5), 7 p.m.
Freedom (14-10) @ North Lincoln (18-5), 7 p.m.
Cherryville (11-9) @ Avery (4-9), 2:30 p.m.
Hickory (17-3-1) @ South Iredell (15-4). 6 p.m.
Gastonia-Forestview (11-5-4) @ Fred T. Foard (10-13), 7 p.m.
Avery (13-9) @ Lincoln Charter (17-6), 6 p.m.