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Originally published: 2013-04-10 14:43:46
Last modified: 2013-04-10 14:43:45

Watauga handles Hickory 11-0 in home opener

The Watauga High School baseball team turned in another strong performance Tuesday night. The Pioneers (5-9 overall; 2-5 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference), riding a season-high, three-game winning streak, blasted Hickory 11-0 at Pioneer Field in its home opener. The game was called in the top of the fifth due to the 10-run mercy rule.

Ryder Jones, like he did last week at the East Rutherford Easter Tournament, continued his relentless pace. The WHS senior tossed a two-hit, complete-game shutout and struck out nine. Offensively, Jones was 2-2 with a walk and three runs batted-in. Jones is 8-13 (.615 batting average) with seven RBI in his last four games.

And the Pioneers, which was having a tough time scoring runs just a month ago, has suddenly erupted for 29 runs on 30 hits in its last three games.

"Moving Jesse (Illich) to the lead-off spot is really paying off for us right now," WHS coach Pete Hardee said. "Jesse batted some at lead-off for the JV team last year, and he was hitting real well for us this season. It was the right thing to do. We needed a lift, and he's given it to us. Plus, we're getting guys on base more, and we're making solid contact at the plate. I felt real good about our chances tonight. I could tell in the pre-game warm ups that we were ready to play."

The Pioneers scored the only run it needed in the first inning. Carson Isaacs, who has four hits in his last two games, came through with a run-scoring, two-out single that scored Ryder Jones for a 1-0 lead.

The Pioneers proceeded to break the game open from there as the team scored four more times in the second inning and six more times in the third.

"Utah Jones made the statement at practice (Monday) that we needed someone to drive in a run with two outs," Hardee said. "And we did that tonight. We were very patient at the plate, and we did a great job driving the ball tonight. It was a great win, a much needed for us. Like I've said before, I strongly believe there's a run in this team."

The win moves WHS into a three-way tie with Fred T. Foard and Hibriten for fifth place, just one game behind Hickory (10-7; 3-4) for fourth place and home-field advantage in the opening round of the NW3A/4A Conference Tournament (which begins April 30). WHS is just 1.5 games behind St. Stephens for third place. The Indians, which has won four in a row, is 4-4 in league play.

And the WHS pitching staff continued its mastery by tossing its third shutout of the season. The Pioneers have given up 33 earned runs in 92.2 innings, lowering the team's earned-run-average to a stingy 2.50. WHS has given up just one run in its last three games -- a span of 17 innings.

"We've done a great job on the mound, and Ryder isn't the only one getting the job done," Hardee said. "Everyone we've put out there has given us an honest chance to win the game. We've hurt ourselves by not scoring any runs. Ryder was super tonight. He threw some extra bullpens over the weekend, and he looked real strong tonight."

It's the second time Jones has beaten Hickory this season. He beat the Red Tornadoes 6-0 on March 8. Jones retired six in a row during one stretch Tuesday night, including five by strikeout between the first and third innings; he struck out the side in the fourth. The Pioneers also snapped its five-game losing streak in conference play. It was its first conference win in more than a month.

Jesse Illich, who was hitting .364 coming into Tuesday's game, was 2-3 with a run scored and an RBI; Mason Illich had a three-run double; Carson Isaacs was 2-3 with two RBI; Tyler Sturgill was 2-3; Matt Lambert had a run-scoring triple, and Hunter Isaacs was 2-2 with an RBI.

The bottom of the batting order (Sturgill, Lambert and Hunter Isaacs) produced five hits and drove in three runs.

"We're playing very well right now," Hardee said. "These guys know, despite our slow start, that I never gave up on them. And they haven't given up on me. After we lost that game (against the East Rutherford JV team on April 1), I put them through a tough three-hour practice the next day. And they thanked me for working them as hard as I did. This is a good team, and we're starting to play like it."

The Pioneers was scheduled to play North Davidson today, but because of a scheduling change, the game will now be played on Thursday. The JV game begins at 4:30 p.m., the varsity game begins at 7 p.m. Charlotte Providence comes to town for a varsity-only double header on Saturday at 1 p.m.