By David Rogers. April 24, 2015. BOONE, NC — Seven men left on base doesn’t seem like a lot in a baseball game — unless you lose by only one run. Watauga squandered four opportunities with men in scoring position Friday night, losing to Northwestern Conference rival, Patton, 4-3 at the Pioneer baseball complex.
COVER IMAGE: Patton’s ace hurler Peyton Mull was on his game, pitching a complete game and limiting the Watauga bats to just six hits.
Photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Junior ace Peyton Mull hurled a complete game for the visiting Panthers, scattering six hits while allowing the three runs. Pioneer second baseman Justin Greer was 3-3 on the evening, including two doubles and a single while scoring two of Watauga’s three runs. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a lot offensive help from his fellow Pioneers. Senior shortstop Utah Jones ripped a double into left center to lead off the bottom of the third inning, but that was just about the extent of the Pioneers’ offensive prowess beyond Greer. Mull allowed just three walks while striking out seven.
The Panthers roughed up Pioneer starting pitcher Hunter Isaacs early, chasing him after the first two batters walked in the fourth inning. The early Patton hit parade included a home run blast over the left field fence shortstop Will Kirk.
With Isaacs staying in the line-up but moving to left field, Adam Greene came on in relief for the Pioneers and delivered three and a half innings of solid work. The 6’2″, 260-lb. senior started the game as designated hitter, then took command of the mound with men on first and second and facing the heart of the Panthers’ batting order. A grounder to first, a pop-up to short, and a strikeout later, the Pioneers were out of the inning.
Greene struck out seven while giving up just one hit and no runs in his three-plus innings of relief work, the outing marred only by two hit batters.
Mull made 110 pitches in the complete game. Panthers head coach Jonathan Browning told reporters afterwards that he stayed with Mull because, “Even at 90%, he is far better than my alternatives right now.”
Browning acknowledged to reporters that the win over Watauga was important, pushing the Panthers up the Northwestern Conference standings to a fourth place tie with Fred T. Foard and Watauga at 5-6. (Foard defeated Hickory, 5-4, on Friday). But, he said, “We’re looking to do more than that. We’re looking to get on a roll and win out, and hopefully get a little help from some other people.”
The Panthers could get some of that help on Saturday when Hibriten visits Foard in Newton. A win by the visitors would push Foard down a half-game into 6th place, but leave Patton in a tie with Watauga for 4th. The Panthers and the Pioneers have split the regular season series, with Watauga winning at Patton on March 24th, 5-1, with the result being reversed with Patton’s road win at Watauga.
At least on paper, Patton would seem to have an edge on Watauga for moving up in the standings. In their remaining three games, the Panthers face 7th and 8th place St. Stephens and (winless) Freedom, as well as second place Hibriten.
The Pioneers need to finish in 4th or better to host a first round tournament game, but those chances took a hit with consecutive losses this past week to Hibriten and Patton after such a promising start to April, including wins over Newton-Conover (9-0), Maiden (5-4) and Bunker Hill (8-3) in the Catawba Classic tournament and a 7-2 win over Northwestern Conference foe Fred T. Foard (7-2) on the road. With three regular season games remaining, the best outcome the Pioneers can mathematically muster would be 8-6, but to get there they need to knock off first place South Caldwell and third place Hickory, as well as last place Freedom.
For a weather-postponed game, Watauga travels to last place Freedom (0-11, 2-16) on Monday to continue league action, then hosts a strong third place club in Hickory (7-4, 10-6) on Tuesday before finishing the regular season by entertaining first place and undefeated South Caldwell at the Watauga baseball complex.
UNOFFICIAL Northwestern Conference Standings through April 24th games (conference record):
- 1. South Caldwell (11-0)
- 2. Hibriten (8-3)
- 3. Hickory (7-4)
- 4. Fred T. Foard (5-6)
- 4. Patton (5-6)
- 4. Watauga (5-6)
- 7. St. Stephens (3-8)
- 8. Freedom (0-11)
REMAINING CONFERENCE OPPONENTS for each team:
- South Caldwell — @ Hickory, @ Foard, @ Watauga
- Hibriten — @ Foard, vs. Patton, @ Hickory
- Hickory — vs. South Caldwell, @ Watauga, vs. Hibriten
- Fred T. Foard — vs. Hibriten, vs. South Caldwell, @ St. Stephens
- Patton — @ St. Stephens, @ Hibriten, vs. Freedom
- Watauga — @ Freedom, vs. Hickory, vs. South Caldwell
- St. Stephens — vs. Patton, @ Freedom, vs. Foard
- Freedom — vs. Watauga, vs. St. Stephens, @ Patton