Watauga beats McDowell in 11th inning
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
MARION -- Watauga's baseball team found different ways to win the three games it needed to capture the Northwestern Conference Tournament championship last week.
They did the same thing in the first round of the state 4-A playoffs Wednesday.
The Pioneers needed 11 innings before finally beating McDowell 8-6 in a first round game that had three ties before Watauga could claim the win. Watauga (13-12) advanced to the second round and hosts South Mecklenburg at 7 p.m. Saturday.
South Mecklenburg (19-8) surprised Hough 5-2 Wednesday.
Watauga had a surprise for McDowell (13-9), too. The Pioneers got back-to-back doubles by Stedman Sauls and Hunter Isaacs in the top of the 11th inning to break a 6-6 tie that lasted since the seventh inning when both teams scored three runs to tie the game.
Justin Greer scored on Sauls' double, who then scored on Isaacs' double. Both of the doubles were sharply pulled down the third base line.
It was Sauls' only hit in six at-bats.
"All game I was struggling seeing the ball," Sauls said. "That last pitch, I connected and we got to string together a few hits. After playing 11 innings, that's big."
Once Watauga took the lead, Jones made sure it stuck by holding the Titans scoreless.
"You want to have a little insurance to help out Utah a little bit," Isaacs said. "I was just trying to get a job done and we got it done."
"It was just good at-bats by Stedman and Hunter," Pioneers coach Pete Hardee said. "Both of them battled and got up in the count like 2-0 and 3-1 and were sitting on fastball. We got a couple of good balls down the line, which was nice for me because I got two thrown out at home plate tonight."
Hardee was referring to the two runners McDowell threw out at home to save two runs. Utah Jones tried to score from first base in the third inning on a Carson Isaacs single, but was thrown out on a relay from center field.
No relay was needed when McDowell centerfielder Andy Morris gunned down Isaacs at the plate after he tried to score on Greer's single in the 11th inning.
Jones was also victim of a diving catch made by McDowell leftfielder Justin Ramsey in the 10th inning that would have likely driven in at least one run. It answered a diving catch Greer made to rob Morris of a hit in the first inning.
Watauga looked ready to win the game in the seventh inning anyway by scoring three runs. Isaacs singled, and circled the bases with a passed ball and a wild pitch before scoring on a passed ball.
When Jesse Illich and Jones scored on a Isaacs single, the Pioneers took a seemingly safe 6-3 lead. Isaacs finished with three of Watauga's 16 hits, including two doubles.
The Pioneers cracked eight hits, including three doubles, in the final four innings.
"It's just a gutsy effort to win an 11-inning ballgame," Hardee said. "Both teams played hard and both teams were gutsy, but it's just nice to get a win."
McDowell did not give up so easy. The Titans struck back with a two-run single from Trevor Newman and an RBI single by Andy Morris to tie the game 6-6.
Watauga had chances to win the game by putting runners in scoring position in each of the extra innings. The Pioneers had runners on second and third innings in the eighth inning, the bases loaded with one out in the ninth, and runners on first and second in the 10th inning, but came up empty each time.
Isaacs pitched the first 6 1/3 innings before giving up Morris' single in the seventh. Jones came on in relief and allowed Newman's RBI single. Once he got out of the seventh inning, Jones allowed just two hits in the final four innings.
"Both guys did a great job," Hardee said. "It is a tough for Hunter not to get the win, but at this time of the year, we're not worried about that. The team's goals are all that matter."
Coleman Arrowood scattered eight Watauga hits in his 6 2/3 innings on the mound. Landon Whitson came on in the seventh inning and Trevor Newman took to the mound in the 11th.
Watauga 8, McDowell 6 (11)
Watauga 002 010 300 02 -- 8 6 2
McDowell 020 001 300 00 -- 6 8 1
H. Isaacs, Jones (7) and Sauls. Arrowood, Whitson (7), Newman (11) and Wall. W--Jones, L--Whitson. LOB--Watauga 11, McDowell 7. 2B--Watauga, H. Isaacs 2, Sauls, J. Illich; McDowell, Arrowood, Ramsey. SH--Watauga, Lambert; McDowell, Lister. SB--Watauga, Jones, C. Isaacs, Greer; McDowell, Ruiz. DP--Watauga 1.