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Merciless? Pioneers manufacture 15 runs in first inning at Freedom before taking a 16-6 run-rule win

By David Rogers. MORGANTON, N.C. — Don’t let it be said that Watauga’s varsity baseball team fell asleep at the starting gate on March 28. Not after the Pioneers jumped on Freedom for 15 runs in the top half of the first inning en route to a convincing, 16-6 3A/4A Northwestern Conference win that was run-rule complete after five innings.

For Watauga, the opening frame was an exercise in patience and power.

After Jameson Hodges sliced a hard ground ball that Freedom’s third baseman couldn’t keep in play, for a single, Evan Burroughs worked the count full, to 3-2, watched Hodges steal second base, then finally drawing a walk on the seventh pitch of his at-bat. Maddox Greene drew a 4-pitch walk to load the bases, setting up Cooper Critcher for his first RBI single of the night, a sharp line drive to left that scored Hodges and Burroughs.

J T Cook followed with more patience at the plate, walking after just five pitches to put runners on first and second. Head coach Mike Windish used courtesy runners for both Critcher and Cook, inserting Dillon Zaragoza and Cade Keller, respectively, to run the basepaths.  That proved fruitful as Jake Blanton stepped to the plate, worked the count to a full 3-2 before ripping a double to a gap in left field to score Watauga’s third and fourth runs in Greene and Zaragoza off of Freedom starting pitcher, junior Kyle Self.

For the Pioneer batters, the first inning was an exercise in patience and power.

Self began to work himself out of the jam with two bookend strikeouts around yet another walk with the next three Pioneer batters: Jake Henderson (strikeout), David Pastusic (walk), and Hank Matthews (strikeout).

But in getting back to the top of the batting order, Watauga wasn’t done, not by a longshot.

Appearing for the second time in the frame, Hodges was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, scoring Keller, and keeping the based loaded with Blanton sauntering over to third and Pastusic to second.

In his second trip to the plate in the first inning, Burroughs looked at three straight balls to open the at-bat, then looked at two strikes, before lining a single to right, scoring Blanton and Pastusic.

Now, with two outs and a 7-0 lead, it turned out that Watauga wasn’t even halfway there in terms of first inning run production.

In his second year as the Patriots’ head coach, Tyler Hackett had seen enough of Self’s rocky start and hoped that freshman hurler Luke Miller could stop the hemorrhaging on the mound.

Even with two outs, the Pioneers weren’t quite halfway done with their first inning run production.

It probably wasn’t the mound performance Hackett was looking for after Burroughs stole second base and Greene drew his second walk of the inning and the Pioneer hit parade kept singing.

Critcher laced a single through the infield to center, scoring Hodges and Burroughs to make it 9-0. Then Cook singled through the infield to left, scoring Greene and courtesy runner Zaragoza, bringing the score to 11-0.

On the mound, Miller couldn’t catch a break. He walked Blanton on a 3-2 full count, gave up a line drive single to Henderson that was compounded by a centerfielder error, allowing Blanton to score and courtesy runner Keller to score.

Even after leading 13-0, the Pioneers still had some work to do. Pastusic reached base on an error by the third baseman. Matthews walked to load the bases again. Henderson scampered home on a wild pitch that flew past the catcher to the backstop before Hodges, on his third trip to plate in the first inning, singled to left, scoring Pastusic for what proved to be the final run of the wild Watauga opening, 15-0. Almost mercifully, Burroughs lined out to the shortstop to end the carnage.

Watauga scored another run in the top of third and Freedom manufactured six runs, three each in the third and fourth innings, but with a 15-run first inning of work by the Pioneers, this story was all but written.

Some highlight extras included the return of J T Cook to the mound as the Pioneers’ starter. He worked the first two innings, intentionally on a limited pitch count, giving up one hit, no runs, striking out one and walking one over an efficient 32 pitches.

Now at 8-2 overall and 3-1 in Northwestern Conference play, the Pioneers have some time off over Easter before returning to the diamond on April 9 to host High Country rival, Ashe County. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., following the junior varsity game.

Freedom (3-7, 0-3) travels to Ashe County (7-5, 0-3) on March 29, one of the teams assured of a first conference win.

TOP PERFORMERS

    • WAT – Cooper Critcher: 2-3, scored 2 runs, 4 RBIs
    • WAT – Jameson Hodges: 2-3, scored 2 runs, 2 RBIs, 1 stolen base
    • WAT – Jake Blanton: 1-2, 2 runs scored, 2 RBIs, 2B, 1 walk
    • WAT – J T Cook: 2-3, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, winning pitcher
    • WAT – Maddox Greene: 2-4, 2 runs scored, 2 walks
    • WAT – Evan Burroughs: 1-3, 2 runs scored, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, 1 stolen base
    • WAT – David Pastusic: 1-3, 2 runs scored, 1 walk

 

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