Spartans rally past Watauga
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
SAWMILLS — Watauga’s baseball got off to a fast start against South Caldwell Tuesday night. The Pioneers’ problem was a slow finish.
Watauga took a five-run lead in the first inning, but could not maintain its advantage in a 10-7 loss to the rival Spartans in a Northwestern Conference showdown. South Caldwell answered with a three-run third inning and a five-run fourth to claim a 9-6 lead it would never lose.
It’s the fifth straight year that Watauga has lost at South Caldwell.
Watauga (2-6, 1-3 NWC), which has not played a home game all season because of a unplayable field, got off to a promising start by taking a 5-0 lead in the first inning. The Pioneers sent nine batters to the plate, six who ended up getting base hits.
Ryder Jones belted a two-run home run, driving in Tyler Jones, who opened the game with a double. Mason Illich and Carson Isaacs both singled and scored, while Utah Jones and Clay Mizner each delivered RBI singles.
But the Pioneers would struggle to get anything else off South Caldwell starter Nick Horning, who allowed an RBI single to Mizner in the third inning, but also set down 11 straight Pioneers after Mizner’s hit.
“He made some quality pitches,” South Caldwell coach Jeff Parham said. “When you look at it, it’s 5-0 and not looking good. Nick comes back and pitches a gem of a game if you take away the first inning.”
Ryder Jones, who went 3-for-4 Tuesday, broke that dry spell with a single in the top of the seventh inning. He scored on a Carson Isaacs single.
Watauga finished with 10 hits off Horning, but just four of them after the first inning. All of them were singles. Mizner finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and was on deck with runners on first and second in the seventh inning before the game’s final out was made.
Isaacs also had two hits and two RBIs.
Watauga starter Tyler Jones gave up a run in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Austin Miller, but settled down to set the Spartans (5-2. 4-1) down in order in the second. Jones struggled to find the strike zone in the third inning when South Caldwell scored three runs to close to 6-4.
He was pulled with two outs in the third for Andrew Miller, who got Nick Shields to ground out to end the inning. But South Caldwell rallied for five runs on five hits on Miler and relief pitcher Chance Richards to claim a 9-6 lead.
“We hit the ball to get back in this,” Parham said. “We had some big clutch hits tonight. You think about that (fourth) inning and there are two outs before we get going there. It’s something about character to keep fighting.”
Miller drove in two runs with a single and Phillip Page had a double in the inning for the Spartans. South Caldwell finished with nine hits and took advantage of three Watauga errors in the game.
Richards allowed a double and a run in the fifth inning and held South Caldwell hitless in the sixth.
Watauga is scheduled to play at Hibriten on Friday and to host Providence Saturday. If the weather can stay dry, and if Watauga’s field is ready, the game against Providence would be the first of three scheduled home games for the Pioneers.