By David Rogers. March 24, 2017. HICKORY, NC — Hamilton Castle jumped on a full count fastball to pound a leadoff double to right field. That ignited a 4-run first inning for Watauga and helped propel the Pioneers to a convincing, 7-3 decision over the Hickory Red Tornadoes Friday night at Troy Washam Field.
The Pioneers’ 8-hit offensive attack capitalized on two Hickory fielding errors and included a barrage of 6 singles crammed into the first two innings. Pioneers rapping out the one-baggers to move runners around the diamond included Jonathan McClannon, August Sauls, Graham Gilliam, Travis Hamrick, Case Taylor, and another by Sauls. Taylor also legged out a double down the left field line in the top of the 4th inning.
We have a lot of options.
Hamrick pitched effectively for the first three innings, striking out three batters, issuing one base on balls, and hitting one batter, while limiting the Red Tornadoes to just one run on two hits (both singles).
Pioneer head coach David Lee acknowledged to reporters later that Hamrick was pitching well, but that the coaching staff was monitoring his pitch count closely since it was the freshman’s first career start on the mound.
Normally a starter, senior hurler Justin Hollars finished the last four innings in relief. Starting off a little shaky, he pitched himself into and out of trouble in the 4th inning. After getting the first batter to ground out to shortstop Hamilton Castle, Hollars walked Hickory outfielder Jacob Fuller, sent centerfielder Jess Guarino to first as a hit batter, and gave up a single to infielder Jacob Surbaugh. But he was able to pitch his way out of the bases loaded jam by getting a pop up to short right field and a long flyout to Watauga senior RF Evan Suggs.
Over the course of his four innings of relief work, Hollars recorded five strikeouts, walked three and hit two batters.
We got off to a good start in what was a big game for us.
For Watauga, the strong performance against Hickory by the senior-laden team spoke volumes about the Pioneers’ depth. In his post-game interviews, Coach Lee noted that while his team might have been suffering from the loss of senior Jimmy Williams to an injury at school earlier in the day, “The guy that I brought in to replace Williams is a Division I football athlete (Evan Suggs).
“We have a lot of options in our dugout,” Lee observed. “We have a lot of quality players we can stick into the game.”
Lee gave all credit to his players in their progress and development this year as the season approaches a midpoint in the regular season.
“We got off to a good start in what was a big game for us,” said Lee. “Give all the credit to the players. Their preparation going into games has been solid…We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now and that’s the mark of a quality team.”
Now at 3-3 in Northwestern Conference play, Watauga is tied with Hickory and St. Stephens for 4th place in the 8-team 3A/4A league. While they travel to Winston-Salem for a non-conference game against West Forsyth on Saturday, they return to the High Country to host perennial league powerhouse and longtime Pioneer rival, South Caldwell, on Tuesday, March 28th, with first pitch slated for 7:00 pm.