By David Rogers. WILKESBORO, N.C. — An Arctic cold front may have swept across the West Wilkes Blackhawks’ baseball field on March 7, but the Watauga offense was hot, hot, hot in a 12-7, seven inning win.
The visiting Pioneers scored in every inning except the third frame and saved the best for last, scoring four runs in the top half of the seventh inning. Watauga scored their 12 runs on 12 hits and just one Blackhawk error.
The teams traded single runs in the first inning, but the Pioneers broke things open and secured the lead for good in the second with a 3-run outburst. With one out, Watauga starting pitcher Johnny Ray helped his cause at the plate by rapping a single through the infield and into center field. Catcher Cooper Critcher followed by striking out, setting up what turned out to be a 2-out scoring barrage. A walk to David Pastusic put runners on first and second, then Jameson Hodges lined a single to right, scoring Ray. Shortstop Maddox Greene kept the rally going with a single to center, scoring Pastusic, and moving Hodges to third.
It didn’t take long for Greene to take advantage of a runner on third with second base empty. On a 1-1 count with Jacob Dilley at bat, Greene stole second easily. Perhaps the Blackhawks’ starting pitcher, Carson Edmiston was a bit rattled by the activity, but a wild pitch on a 2-1 count sent Hodges to the plate, sliding head first with the dirt flying around him and West Wilkes catcher, Eli Johnson — and under the versatile freshman’s tag attempt. Greene took third on the play but was left stranded when Dilley grounded out to second. The damage had been done, however, with Watauga leading, 4-1.
Edmiston seemed to settle down for the Blackhawks, retiring the side with no damage by Watauga in the third inning and striking out the first two batters in the top of the 4th. But the Pioneers managed a 2-out, 2-run rally in the top of the 4th, added another run in the top of the fifth to give the Boone boys a 7-2 lead.
Although Watauga added another run in the top of the 6th when senior rightfielder Tristan Salinas hammered a 2-out home run over the center field fence, expanding the lead to 8-4, West Wilkes manufactured three runs in the bottom of the inning to tighten the deficit to a single run, 8-7.
The Pioneers were far from petered out, however. In the top of the 7th, they responded with a one-out double to right by Ray, a single on a pop fly by Critcher, a single by junior leftfielder Jake Henderson, a walk to Hodges (scoring Ray), and another walk to Greene (scoring Critcher) to load the bases. Dilley then lined a single to left, scoring Hodges from third and Henderson racing from second. With Salinas now pitching, the Blackhawks were unable to make anything happen in the bottom of the 7th.
Although Salinas rapped the big home run, the Pioneer offensive production was solid up and down the roster with a number of contributors. Ray had a double, as well as three stolen bases on the night, going 2-for-4 with 2 runs scored and an RBI. Dilley banged out three hits in five at bats and was credited with 5 RBIs as well as a stolen base. Leadoff hitter Hodges went 2-for-4, scoring 4 runs and 2 RBIs. Greene was credited with a stolen base, too, with one walk while going 1-fo-3, scoring a run and recording a pair of RBIs.
All totaled, the Pioneers poached seven stolen bases, one each by Dilley, Salinas, Greene, and Henderson to go along with Ray’s three.
With the win, Watauga moves to 5-0 on the young season. The scheduled tournament opponent for Friday has been moved up to Thursday, March 9. First home game is March 13, vs. Mitchell.