Pioneers crush St. Stephens 12-0
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Watauga's baseball team made sure its seniors finished the regular season in style -- at St. Stephens' expense.
Ryder Jones, one of eighth seniors who were honored on Senior Night, belted two home runs, and pitched four scoreless innings in Watauga's 12-0 pasting of visiting St. Stephens Friday night at Watauga's field. The game was shortened to four and a half innings because of the 10-run mercy rule.
The Pioneers (14-10, 7-5 NWC) finished the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. They also won 12 of their final 13 games, dating back to their two victories in the East Rutherford Easter Tournament back on April 3 and April 5.
Watauga has won four of its last five games by the 10-run mercy rule. The Pioneers have outscored its last five opponents 61-13 with two shutouts.
The Pioneers turn their attention to the Northwestern Conference Tournament, which begins with a home game for the Pioneers, on Tuesday.
"Getting our first 'W' down in the Easter tournament -- everybody's been confident," Jones said. "I've been finally hitting the ball like I'm supposed to and it feels great. I think everybody hitting the ball and getting confidence has brought our team attitude up and it's helped us out lately."
Watauga's offense finished with just seven hits, but four went for extra bases. Jones hit a three-run home run in the second inning and a towering two-run shot in the third that landed halfway up the hill that is behind the right-field fence.
Jones said he was behind the count in both at-bats, but managed to get a pitch in each that he could drive.
"It was a low and inside fastball," Jones said of his second home run. "He threw it right where I wanted it. I squared up and it felt good."
Jesse Illich also blasted a three-run home run in the third inning two batters before Jones' homer. Mason Illich, who had two hits, doubled in the first inning to give the Pioneers a 2-0 lead.
Watauga's offense proved to be very efficient. The Pioneers had 13 batters reach base, but just one did not score a run. All three of the Pioneers who walked, plus the one that was hit by a pitch, scored.
"Being out in the field has helped a lot," Tyler Jones said. "In a cage, you can only do so much. On a field, you can really work on playing the ball where we need to, work on hit and runs and bunts and things like that."
It was really all the offense Ryder Jones needed. Tyler Jones robbed St. Stephens lead off hitter Kyrawn Whitfield of a double in the first inning with a diving catch in center field, which helped preserve a shutout since the next batter, Fisher Davis, doubled.
Ryder Jones eventually got out of the inning by striking out Greg Lucas. Jones went on to send the next six St. Stephens batters to the bench before Walking Dylan Brown, who Jones picked off first base.
St. Stephens' other hit off Jones was a Konner Klingenberg single to start the fourth inning. The next three batters went down in order.
Jones struck out three and walked two. He has pitched limited innings for most of the month and has not pitched since he threw two innings in the Pioneers' 3-2 win over South Caldwell on April 18.
"It's been taking me a little extra time for me to get lose," Jones said. "I don't know if it's because it's cooled down a little bit, but it felt good. Around the third inning, it started loosening up a little bit finally."
The Pioneers did not make any errors until the fifth inning when Jones, who moved to shortstop when Tripp Taylor took over on the mound, could not come up with a ground ball.
It did not led to a run as Taylor got Klingenberg to fly out to right field to end the game.
"We're just playing with a lot of confidence right now," Tyler Jones said.
Watauga 12, St. Stephens 0 (5)
St. Stephens 000 00 -- 0 3 2
Watauga 246 0X -- 12 7 1
Beiland, Barkley (3) and Gantt. R. Jones, Taylor (5) and Sturgill. W--R. Jones, L--Beiland. LOB--St. Stephens 5, Watauga 1. 2B--St. Stephens, Davis; Watauga, M. Illich. HR--Watauga, R. Jones 2, J. Illich. SB--Watauga, M. Illich, U. Jones.