Isaacs pitches Pioneers to victory
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Watauga's latest discovery is fast becoming a key part of the Pioneers' stretch run to the state 4-A playoffs.
Hunter Isaacs, making just his third varsity appearance on the mound, pitched Watauga to a 3-2 victory over Alexander Central in a key Northwestern Conference game Tuesday at Appalachian State's Smith Stadium.
Watauga was playing its third straight game at Smith Stadium because of a wet field at Watauga High. The Pioneers (8-10, 3-5 NWC) have won five straight at Smith, two of those victories coming against Alexander Central (15-4), dating back to 2013.
Because of inclement weather and a wet field, Watauga played its first 13 games away from home. The Pioneers have still not played on their home field, but they've been able to get some workouts outside after spending most of the spring indoors.
"We've gone from a team that was finding ways to lose to a team that expects to win," Pioneers coach Pete Hardee said. "When we were down, we were 2-9, 1-5 in the league and I told them that pride in a program comes from hard work. We couldn't work hard until we got outside and once we got outside, we put the work in and this team has come around."
More recently, Watauga has won six of its last seven games, and faces league rival Fred T. Foard tonight at Watauga's field. Another home game, against archrival South Caldwell, is scheduled for Friday.
The Pioneers play a fourth home game this week Saturday against A.C. Reynolds. Getting nearly a full game from Isaacs on the mound -- he pitched six innings against Alexander Central, helps Hardee plan the rest of the pitching schedule this week.
"It was huge tonight," Hardee said. "We didn't have to use anybody. We've got them all available tomorrow."
Isaacs pitched the first three innings of Watauga's 13-3 victory over Providence in the first of the Pioneers' sweep of the Panthers. Hardee said after he saw how effective Isaacs was in games against North Davidson and Providence, the sophomore right-hander would start against Alexander Central.
Hardee said Jesse Illich, who also pitched Providence, start on the mound tonight. Chance Richards and Tripp Taylor are also available. Ryder Jones is the likely starter against South Caldwell.
"He's got a really good breaking pitch and he throws strikes, hopefully," Hardee said of Illich. "We'll go from him to Chance and possibly Tripp Taylor and then back to Ryder if we need him."
Isaacs scattered 10 hits and struck out just one batter. He struck out one batter and took advantage of a defense that committed just one error.
He also got some help in the fourth inning when he threw out Tad Radcliff in a close play on a fielder's choice.
"He's going to throw strikes," Hardee said. "He's going to challenge hitters. He got behind some hitters in some innings, but he was able to get strike in there and make them hit the ball."
Isaacs found himself in a pitcher's duel with Alexander Central's Luke Watts. Watauga scored first on a Tyler Jones RBI single, but Watts settled down and retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced.
Watauga finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth inning after falling behind 2-1. Tyler Sturgill doubled by hitting third base with his sharply hit ground ball. Taylor, running for Sturgill, reached third on a Carson Isaacs fielder's choice and scored on a wild pitch.
Utah Jones drove in Mason Illich, who walked and then reached second base on the wild pitch that allowed Taylor to score.
"I told Utah that he got good at-bats all night long and just have another one right here," Hardee said. "
Ryder Jones started the seventh inning on the mound for the Pioneers and picked up the save. It would not come easy since Alexander Central's Josh McClain, who signed with N.C. State, doubled with one out in the inning.
Jones sent the next two Cougars to the bench to end the game.
McClain was a one-man wrecking crew to Watauga pitching. McClain, who was 3-for-4, drove in a run with a triple in the third inning. He also scored in the fifth inning on an Ethan Deal single after reaching base with a triple.
"The McClain kid can really hit it," Hardee said. "We went inside on him and he just about hit one out of here in left. We went back to going away from him and he pounded two normal two base hits. With his speed, he was able to turn them into doubles."
Sturgill's double was the only extra base hit the Pioneers had. Watts scattered seven hits overall.
Hardee compared Watauga's two-run rally in the sixth inning to the six-run rally the Pioneers executed against Providence in a 9-8 win in nine innings in the night cap.
"The guys are working hard and we all got together at the sixth inning and said we've got another rally just like we did Saturday," Hardee said. "It worked out that way. We got some big hits. Sturgill got us a big hit in the sixth. We got Tripp in to run and we were very fortunate that we got a passed ball that hit off Tripp's hip and went back to the backstop and then we got a big hit from Utah."
Watauga 3, Alexander Central 2
Alexander Central 001 010 0 -- 2 10 0
Watauga 100 002 X -- 3 6 1
Watts, Lail (6) and Smith. H. Isaacs, R. Jones (7) and Sturgill. W--H. Isaacs, L--Watts. S--R. Jones. LOB--Alex. Central 6, Watauga 5. 2B--Alex. Central, McClain; Watauga, Sturgill. 3B--Alex. Central, McClain 2. SH--Alex. Central, Stikeleather.