Hunter Isaacs lifts Pioneers past Patton
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Isaacs capped eight innings of shutdown pitching with a solo home run in the ninth inning that lifted visiting Watauga to a 4-3 upset of Patton in the first round of the Northwestern Conference Tournament.
Isaacs belted a Brock Toner curveball over the right-center field fence with one out. Isaacs was 0-for-3 leading up to that at-bat, including two strikeouts.
It didn't help Isaacs that Toner is Patton's top pitcher whose fastball is generally in the high 80 miles-per-hour range. But Toner had pitched the previous Friday and didn't even take the field until the seventh inning.
"We kind of made a pact with each other to work our hardest and have each other's backs," Isaacs said. "We did that tonight, and I want to thank my defense tonight. It was a great game teamwise and everybody was hitting the ball. We're ready to move on."
As big as Isaacs' home run was, he came up equally big on the pitcher's mound. Isaacs took over for Watauga starter Utah Jones after he struggled with his control. After Jones hit his third batter of the game with a pitch, Pioneers coach Pete Hardee made the switch.
Isaacs got stronger as the game went on. Patton loaded the bases on Isaacs in the second inning with one out, but Isaacs struck out Luke Baker and got Hayden Caraway to pop up to end the inning.
Patton also put runners on third base in the fifth inning, but Caraway was caught in a rundown for the second out. After Logan Pearson reached third base, Isaacs struck out Collins Hamer to end the inning.
Watauga's defense, which has been inconsistent for most of the season, bailed out Isaacs in the sixth inning. Wyatt Fleming doubled and tried to score on Will Kirk's single.
But centerfielder Jesse Illich threw a laser from centerfield to gun Fleming out at home plate to stop the threat.
Isaacs took it from there. He set the next nine Panthers down in order to keep the Pioneers in the game.
"The way the game was going, it was going to take a special effort from our guys," Hardee said. "It wasn't going to be me or another coach or anything like that. It was going to be players wanting to move on and getting the job done. As the game went on our intensity grew and it's what happens when you let a team like us stay in the game."
Patton scored three runs in the first inning on Jones, but did not score the rest of the game. The Panthers led 3-1 in the sixth inning when Justin Greer belted a two-run home run off Patton starter Noah Eggers to tie the game.
The Pioneers got a huge break at the start of the inning when Matt Lambert's single bounced off the lip of the grass in front of home plate.
It bounced over Patton's first baseman Caraway and into right field for a hit. Had the ball not taken a big hop, Caraway may have fielded it four an out.
One batter later, Greer hit his home run.