By David Rogers. GRANITE FALLS, N.C. — Scoring four runs on four hits in the first three innings was a good beginning for Watauga on May 4 in the Northwestern Conference tournament championship game against Alexander Central, but the Pioneers could hold off an explosive Cougars nine, losing 14-4.
BONUS PHOTOS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE
The Pioneers were looking for revenge after dropping both regular season contests to the Cougars, Watauga’s only blemishes in league play. When sophomore shortstop Maddox Greene launched a long fly ball over the left field fence for a 2-run home run to put the Pioneers ahead 3-2 in the top of the third, followed by senior Jacob Dilley crossing the plate on a single by Johnny Ray to give WHS a 4-2 advantage going into the bottom half of the third, the many Watauga faithful in the stands saw some hope that this game might have a different outcome.
But Alexander Central countered with two big innings, five runs in the bottom of the third and a whopping seven runs in the bottom of the fourth to put the game all but away. ACHS senior J.D. Little played a big role in keeping the Pioneer bats mostly silenced after coming on in place of Cougar starter Maddox Jack with nobody out in the top of the third. Credited as the winning pitcher, Little was making his first game experience after recovering from an injury that had kept him sidelined. The big lefthander also showed power at the plate, ripping a bases loaded triple to the right field fence that scored three runs and put the Cougars ahead 12-4 in the bottom of the fourth inning.
“It is hard to beat a good team like Watauga three times in the same season,” said Alexander Central head coach Pete Hardee in talking with High Country Sports after the game. “We certainly respect Watauga and knew we had to be ready to play tonight. We got down in the third inning and we had to respond. We did just that and I am proud of our guys. They played hard all tournament.”
Comparing this year’s Northwestern Conference tournament championship to others he has been involved in over the years, including as a longtime head coach at Watauga, Hardee said, “This is a big one. To win the league title outright in the regular season and then take the tournament title, it is good to get both in one year. That is hard to do. When we got down there in the top of the third inning, I was waiting to see how our guys would respond. I am proud of the way we battled back.”
Watauga head coach Mike Windish summed it up succinctly after the trophy presentation and all-tournament team was announced. “We got beat,” he said.
Watauga’s Jacob Dilley, Maddox Greene and Cooper Critcher were selected to the all-tournament team.
With the completion of the regular season and crowning Alexander Central as conference tournament champions, the Cougars and Pioneers are both expected to be seeded in the top half of the state playoffs’ West bracket when the pairing and seedings are announced on Sunday. The first round of the playoffs is expected to start on Tuesday, May 9.
KEY INDIVIDUAL PERFORMERS
- AC – Bubba Pope: 1-1, 3 runs scored, 1 walk, Hit by pitch, SB
- AC – J D Little: 2-2, 2 runs scored, 3 RBIs, 3B, winning pitcher
- AC – Cam Chapman: 2-3, 1 run scored, 2 RBIs
- AC – Sawyer Chapman-Mays: 2-2, 2 runs scored, 2 RBIs, hit by pitch
- WAT – Johnny Ray: 2-3, 1 run scored, 1 RBI, 2B
- WAT – Maddox Greene: 1-2, 1 run scored, 2 RBIs, HR, hit by pitch
- WAT – Cooper Critcher: 1-2, 1 RBI
All photographic images by David Rogers for High Country Sports