Pioneers take on Titans on the road
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
The Pioneers open the state 4-A playoffs at McDowell at 7 p.m. today. It is the third tournament this season that Watauga will play.
The Pioneers (13-13) won the Tarboro Easter Classic, but that was just a warm-up for what was going to happen next.
Watauga, the No. 2 seed from the Northwestern Conference, goes into the game perhaps playing its best baseball of the season. The Pioneers swept through the Northwestern Conference Tournament by winning three straight games against teams that beat them twice each during the regular season.
Watauga, after beating Patton 4-3 in nine innings, went on to blank Fred T. Foard 7-0.
Watauga did not score a run in two games against Foard during the regular season.
The Pioneers rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat regular season champion South Caldwell 6-3 to grab the tournament title.
"These tournaments have been when we played our best, and this is obviously the biggest tournament of the year," Pioneers coach Pete Hardee said. "It's single elimination, so I think our concentration level will be good."
Hunter Isaacs is expected to get the start against McDowell, which used to be a member of the NWC. Isaacs pitched eight innings of relief, and then hit the game-winning home run in the Pioneers' victory over Patton.
McDowell (12-9) is the No. 2-seeded team in the Mountain Athletic Conference. The Titans get to host the game because they have a better record than the Pioneers.
The teams have not played each other since 2009.
McDowell has lost its last three games, two of them to T.C. Roberson in a three-game MAC tournament series.
"They're a little bit like South Caldwell," Hardee said. "They're basically pitching and defense is the key to their winning. We'll probably see the (Coleman) Arrowood kid and he throws around 85 or 86 (miles per hour) with a good curveball. They'll bunt a lot and play small-ball a lot. We have to execute and, hopefully, get some hits."
Isaacs will get the starting nod on the pitching mound for Watauga. Isaacs, taking over for Utah Jones in the second inning against Patton, tossed eight scoreless innings.
Isaacs then belted the game-winning home run in the Pioneers' 4-3 win.
"We hope to get a good pitching performance out of Hunter and we should be all right," Hardee said.
Watauga will be without right fielder Matt Tyndall, who is out with mononucleosis. Second baseman Justin Greer was moved to right field, Jones was moved from shortstop to second base, Carson Isaacs will be moved from third base to shortstop, and Matt Lambert will play third base instead of first base.
Andy Critcher will be moved into the lineup at first base.
Should the Pioneers win, they will play the winner of the South Mecklenburg-Hough winner. If South Mecklenburg beats Hough, the game with the Pioneers would be in Boone, most likely on Saturday
But that is too far in the future for the Pioneers to worry about, according to Hardee. Getting past McDowell is enough of a challenge to keep the Pioneers' attention.
"It's just who makes mistakes is what it's going to come down to," Hardee said. "We've got to keep their leadoff hitter off base to keep the bunt out of the equation. It will be at their place, which will make it a lot tougher."