Jones lifts Pioneers past Freedom
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
MORGANTON -- Watauga junior Utah Jones burned Freedom with his bat and his right arm.
Jones belted a two-run home run in the first inning, and pitched Watauga out of a jam in the sixth in the Pioneers' 4-3 victory at Freedom Wednesday night.
Jones cracked his first home run on the varsity level when he put a Josh Ray fastball over the left-field fence. Watauga (4-3, 2-1 Northwestern Conference) caught a break the batter before when leadoff hitter Jesse Illich struck out, but reached first base on a throwing error by Freedom catcher Jacob Honeycutt when he could not catch the third strike.
"It was just a high-and-in fastball and I was seeing the ball really good today," Jones said. "I felt good swinging in (batting practice) and he threw a high-and-in fastball. I used my hands and hit it well."
Freedom coach Clint Zimmerman felt that Ray pitched well throughout the game. Ray scattered just four hits and did not allow Watauga's final eight batters to reach base.
Zimmerman would have liked to have seen Illich go back to the Watauga bench after striking out instead of ending up on first base before Jones' home run.
"On the home run, the mistake there was that it should have been a solo bomb instead of having that guy on first," Zimmerman said. "He recovered well. Josh threw the ball fine, but (Watauga's) a good baseball team. They compete."
Watauga's Matt Lambert increased Watauga's lead to 4-0 with a two-run double in the firth inning. After a Tyler Nigro double later in the inning, Ray settled down and did not allow a runner, except for a Jones walk in the fifth, the rest of the game.
Watauga coach Pete Hardee was concerned that the Pioneers have
not been hitting the ball well lately.
"We're not hitting the ball right now," Hardee said. "We didn't hit the ball very well tonight, either. We're just not swinging the bat well as a team, yet. We didn't hit it all that well at Foard and we swung the bat a little bit better at Providence on Saturday. We've got to keep played defense and pitching it and I think the hitting will come as the season progresses."
Lambert kept the
Freedom bats in check for the first five innings. Watauga's defense helped him by making double
plays in the first and second innings, and Lambert did not allow more than a first-inning single
and walks in the second and fourth innings.
But Lambert started to develop control problems in the sixth by walking the bases loaded. Phil Pieto singled in one run before Jones was brought to the mound in relief of Lambert.
"I think Lambert got tired," Hardee said. "I was hoping he could get us out of the sixth inning and we could go with Utah in the seventh. He couldn't do it, but he pitched an outstanding game for us. He was on top of his game tonight and got a little tired at the end."
Jones gave up an RBI single to Morgan Yancy, but Jones struck out Ray for the second out of the inning.
Watauga made an error on a ball hit by Keith Hicks that pulled the Patriots to 4-3, but Landon Kincaid grounded out to end the inning. Overall, Freedom finished with four hits.
After giving up an infield single to start the seventh, Jones set the Patriots down in order.
"I'm just really trying to strike (Ray) out because any ball they're going to put in play their going to score because there's only one out," Jones said. "I was trying to get outs. I left a fastball down the middle first pitch and (Yancy) stroked it. That kind of hurt me a little bit, but I had to battle up. My defense played well behind me and we got out of it."
Watauga snapped a two-game losing streak that included a 5-0 loss to Foard and a 5-3 loss to Providence, both of them on the road. Watauga hosts Hibriten in another NWC showdown at 6:30 p.m. Friday in what will be the Pioneers' first home game of the season.
"This is a big win and it's conference obviously, so any win, no matter conference or not, is always huge," Jones said.
Freedom (4-3, 0-3), which had not played since a 2-1 loss at Hickory in 12 innings, hosts South Caldwell Friday night.
Watauga 4, Freedom 3
Watauga 200 200 0 -- 4 4 1
Freedom 000 003 0 -- 3 4 1
Lambert, Jones (6) and Sauls. Ray and Honeycutt. W--Lambert, L--Ray. LOB--Watauga 3, Freedom 6. 2B--Watauga, Lambert, Nigro. HR--Watauga, Jones. SB--Watauga, Jones; Freedom, Honeycutt. DP--Watauga 2.