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Originally published: 2014-06-13 15:07:03
Last modified: 2014-06-13 15:07:47

Summer baseball returns tonight

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

It's been a long time since the Watauga junior varsity summer baseball team has played.

The team, comprised of rising Watauga sophomores and freshmen, has not played since late May, when they played road games at Alexander Central and  Fred T. Foard.

They get a chance to host Hickory in a varsity-junior varsity doubleheader tonight. The jayvees go first starting at 5 p.m., with a probable five-inning game. The varsity goes next with a game that will also likely be five innings.

This is if the teams play. Watauga's varsity hasn't played since it dropped a doubleheader at home to Alexander Central on June 4. The Pioneers are 3-3 in their games after sweeping Foard and splitting with Newton-Conover.

Watauga's junior varsity has patiently been waiting for a chance to return to the field after a long absence.

Any number of reasons, which include inclement weather or player or umpire availability, could force a postponement.

"We had to have a layoff because the other high schools were having exams," junior varsity coach Tommy Gilliam said. "As soon as they were cleared, we had our exams."

Now that all of the end of the year exams have been taken, Watauga returns to the baseball field. The junior varsity practiced just two times before Thursday, when they got back to the field for a final tune-up before taking on Hickory.

"We'll stress defense," Gilliam said Thursday. "Defense can be there every game, while hitting comes and goes."

The varsity team consists of players who return to the varsity level, and some junior varsity players form 2014 who are candidates to play varsity in 2015.

The junior varsity team consists of players who are returning from the jayvee team in 2014, most of whom are rising sophomores.

It also has several players who are rising freshmen, who are getting their first experience playing games at the prep level.

It can be an eye-opening experience, according to Gilliam. He plays a different group of players for each doubleheader the team plays, putting the experienced group together for the first game and then the newcomers together for the second.

Thus far, the experienced players are 1-0-1, while the rising freshmen are 0-2. That leaves the team with a 1-2-1 overall record going into tonight.

"They are really young and it shows, too," Gilliam said of the new players. "Baseball on this level is new to them. They've played travel ball, but in high school, everything changes. The people they play get better."