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Watauga upset by Davie County in Round 1, 3-2

By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — In one of the most entertaining baseball games to be played at any level, it was unfortunate that one of the team’s had to lose and bring their 2024 season to an end. When the dust had settled. it was visiting No. 22 seed Davie County doing celebratory back flips and somersaults after edging No. 11 seed Watauga, 3-2, in Round 1 of the North Carolina 4A state playoffs.

BONUS PHOTOS at bottom of article are best viewed on a desktop or laptop monitor after clicking on any image for Slideshow Mode.

It was a game with just about everything a high caliber baseball game promises: sparkling double plays, sacrifice bunts, deeply hit balls to the warning track, masterful coaching decisions and, yes, even controversial umpire calls — and extra innings, 12 tension-filled frames, to be exact. The patrons on this night — the grandstands were overflowing to standing room only on the sidewalks overlooking the field — got their money’s worth.

Davie County’s Braeden Rodgers pitched six strong innings for the War Eagles, striking out five Pioneer batters while allowing 1 run on 6 hits. Photographic image by David Rogers for High Country Sports

For most of the contest, it came down to a low-scoring pitcher’s duel. Watauga sophomore Everett Gryder started on the mound for the Pioneers and pitched a full seven innings. He struck out nine War Eagle batters, walked two and hit one batter while giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits.

It was a game with just about everything a high caliber baseball game promises.

Davie County senior Braeden Rodgers matched Gryder, going six innings as the starter, giving up one run on six hits, striking out five Pioneers while walking three.

After Gryder retired the Davie County side in the first inning, the Pioneers threatened in the bottom half of the frame when senior Jameson Hodges opened with a sharply hit single up the middle. He was thrown out at second on a fielder’s choice when Evan Burroughs smacked a ground ball to the shortstop, but the War Eagles’ relay throw to first on the attempted double play sailed past the first baseman. The speedy Burroughs scampered to second on the error.

With just one out, the Pioneers had a man in scoring position and the promise that any kind of hit would likely bring him home. While Rodgers walked Maddox Greene, he was able to wriggle out of the inning by getting Watauga catcher Cooper Critcher and designated hitter J T Cook to consecutively ground out to first, ending the threat.

Gryder’s second inning on the mound didn’t start so well, hitting Davie County’s first batter, Cooper Bliss, with an early pitch. But after a sacrifice bunt back to the pitcher that advanced Bliss to scoring position at second, Watauga’s sophomore ace struck out the next three batters to end any scoring threat.

In the bottom of the second, Watauga again got a man in scoring position when Jake Henderson drew a one-out walk before David Pastusic ripped a double to the left field fence. The War Eagles got out of trouble, however, when Rodgers struck out the next batter and got the next one to fly out, stranding Henderson at third and Pastusic at second.

It was a routine play and you have to make those, even when you are down.

The top half of the third inning is where Davie County threatened to break open the ball game. The first batter, Coston Colamarino sliced a ground ball to third but the routine out became trouble on a bad hop in front of third baseman Burroughs. In misplaying it, Colamarino was able to beat the throw to first, the fielding error compounded by a throwing error that allowed the Davie County runner to take second base. Gryder issued one of his few walks to the next batter, Coy James, but a wild pitch also allowed Colamarino to advance to third.

While Gryder got his first out by striking out Andrew Krause, after James stole second, the War Eagles’ Hunter Potts singled to left, driving in both Colamarino and James for the first runs of the ball game. Gryder got out of the inning with no more damage but Davie County had taken a 2-0 early lead.

Backed by a solid Pioneer defensive effort that included two double plays, Gryder was able to avoid any more Davie County scoring through the seven innings he pitched and the Pioneers were able to get a run back in the bottom of the fifth when Hodges doubled to center and Greene drew a 2-out walk. Critcher followed with a single to left, scoring Hodges, but Greene was held up at third base, which is where he was stranded when Cook closed out the inning by grounding out to third baseman, Colamarino.

With the game on the line, head coach Mike Windish took advantage of Evan Burroughs speed to put the sophomore in scoring position after stealing second and third.

With the War Eagles leading, 2-1, as the game entered the bottom half of the seventh inning, the Pioneers needed at least one run to tie the game and send it into extra innings. Any more runs would result in a walkoff win for Watauga.

Hodges led off the inning by grounding out to DC’s shortstop, James. After Burroughs walked, Watauga head coach Mike Windish went into “small ball” mode knowing that he needed at least one run to stay in the game. Taking advantage of Burroughs’ speed, Windish had the fleet and versatile sophomore steal both second and third, putting him into easy scoring position with one out and even a ground ball would likely score him from third. The strategy proved itself when Greene laced a 1-out single to left, scoring Burroughs and knotting the score at 2-2. They were unable to bring Greene home with what would have been the walk-off winning run, but sent the game to be decided in extra innings.

Watauga sophomore ace Everett Gryder went 7 innings on the mound in Round 1 vs. Davie County. Photographic image by David Rogers for High Country Sports

And extra innings aplenty there were and every scoring threat vanquished until the top of the 12th inning. The Pioneers sent senior Jameson Hodges to the mound for a little more than two innings, then sophomore Evan Burroughs for almost two innings, and finished the game with another multi-sport sophomore, Cade Keller on the hill. The War Eagles relieved Rodgers first with senior Cole Whitaker, who gave up Burroughs’s two steals and the tying run before himself being replaced by another senior hurler, Conner Berg, to get the final out of the 7th inning.

Berg came close to pitching another full game, with five-plus innings of work and kept the Pioneer bats mostly throttled down, allowing no runs on three hits, with two walks and four strikeouts among the 21 batters he faced.

The Pioneers had a couple of scoring threats in the extra innings, but each time thwarted with a good defensive play by the War Eagles in the field.

In the top of the 12th, Burroughs walked a couple of batters around a bunt single by Colamarino before Watauga head coach brought in Keller. With the bases loaded, a wild pitch brought in the War Eagles’ third an final run before Keller settled in to retire the next three batters and limit the damage.

In what was almost the walkoff winner for the Pioneers in the 9th inning, Maddox Greene hit a line drive to left that was fielded on the fly by Davie County left fielder Craig McBride, who then doubled up the runner at second.

Unfortunately, Watauga could not counter with a run of their own, sending the War Eagles into victory elation.

After the game, an emotion trio of Pioneer seniors spoke with reporters about the game and the 2024 season. Jake Henderson, who has been accepted at UNC-Wilmington after his Watauga graduation but will not play baseball at the next level.

“It was probably one of the most fun games of baseball that I’ve played here (at Watauga),” said Henderson, before adding, “I’ve never played in a game that went this long. It has been fun playing with these guys (Hodges and Critcher) for the past 13-14 years and I just wish them luck in college next year.”

Hodges, who has signed tto play baseball next year at Milligan College, had a clutch play in the 12th inning to to cut off a runner at the plate after fielding a ground ball at second base, saving another War Eagle run.

“It was a routine play and you have to make the routine plays. (Overall) I think that is one of the best games I have ever played in. It didn’t end the way we wanted, but I still enjoyed it.”

With the win, Davie County advances to Round 2 where they will face No. 6 seeded Cox Mill, a 10-1 winner over Southwest Guilford in the opening round.

In another 4A game of interest, No. 26 seeded Alexander Central upset another Northwestern Conference member and the No. 7 seed, South Caldwell, 11-2.

KEY PERFORMERS

  • WAT – Everett Gryder: 7 innings pitched, allowing 2 runs on 3 hits, striking out 9 while walking 2.
  • WAT – Evan Burroughs: 1-4, 1 run scored, 2B, 2 walks, 2 stolen bases
  • WAT – Jameson Hodges: 2-4, 1 run scored, 2B, walk
  • WAT – J T Cook: 1-6, 2B
  • WAT – Cooper Critcher: 1-6, 2B
  • WAT – Maddox Greene: 1-4, 1 RBI
  • WAT – Jake Henderson: 1-2, 2 sacrifice hits, walk
  • WAT – Jake Blanton: 2-6
  • WAT – Dillon Zaragoza: 1-1, sacrifice hit
  • DAV – Braeden Rodgers: 6 innings pitched, 1 run on 6 hits, 5 strikeouts, 3 walks
  • DAV – Hunter Potts: 1-5, 2 RBIs, walk
  • DAV – Corbin Angus: 2-5
  • DAV – Logan Allen: 1-1, 2B
  • DAV – Coy James: 0-4, 2 walks, 1 run scored, stolen base
  • DAV – Coston Colamarino: 1-5, 1 run scored
  • DAV – Craig McBride: 0-3, 1 run scored, walk

BONUS PHOTOS

In the 7th inning, Evan Burroughs stole both second and third to put himself in scoring position for the tying run that would send the Round 1 playoff game between Watauga and Davie County into extra innings. Photographic image by David Rogers for High Country Sports

Watauga sophomore ace Everett Gryder went 7 innings on the mound in Round 1 vs. Davie County. Photographic image by David Rogers for High Country Sports

Davie County’s Braeden Rodgers pitched six strong innings for the War Eagles, striking out five Pioneer batters while allowing 1 run on 6 hits. Photographic image by David Rogers for High Country Sports

 

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