BOONE — The Watauga baseball team is on to the second round of the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference Tournament after dismantling the Ashe County Huskies 10-0 at home on Monday.
It was the third — and likely last — time the rival teams had played each other this season, with Watauga (16-7, 6-4) winning all three by double digits. Not only had the two teams met twice before, but the second meeting in Ashe had only been played the Friday before.
“You get a team twice and you feel pretty good about it. But having to play a team three times — especially now that this is do or die in the conference tournament — our challenge was to play to any lulls in the game, to keep the game moving and keep driving” Pioneers head coach Mike Windish said.
To call it a complete game for the Pioneers would be an understatement. Whether they were on the mound, in the field or at the plate, the Pioneers made no mistakes and got the job done.
“It was a pretty good offensive game for us. I think (starting pitcher Holden McLean) really set the tone for us and the defense behind him played with a lot of confidence too,” Windish said. “He gets out of that first inning pretty clean, we go and score a run in every inning after that.”
With McLean holding the Huskies down early, the Watauga bats were quick to act and build up a lead. By the end of the second, Watauga was already up 5-0 and were meticulously adding more runs on top of it.
However, leads can change quickly in baseball, and while the Pioneers were playing well, a few good hits could always get Ashe back into it. That notion seemed to drop in the bottom of the third when the Huskies were hoping they could escape the inning without further damage — only for JT Cook to prove them wrong.
The freshman cracked a no-doubt home run that was the only score of the inning, but had more impact as a message sent. An RBI single from Jacob Dilley an inning later would make it 7-0, and a mercy rule finish was within reach for Watauga.
Meanwhile, the defense continued to hold. McLean was still giving the Huskies a platter of pitches they could not do anything with, and any that did come off the bat were quickly cleaned up by Watauga’s fielding.
A pair of runs in the fifth set up the Pioneers for a walkoff opportunity in the sixth. One run and they were on to the second round. Jamison Hodges had set himself up on second when Tristan Salinas came to the plate. A deep single that skipped past one Huskie gave Hodges enough room to race to home plate and end the game early.
With less than 24 hours before the Pioneers had to take on South Caldwell on the road in round two, Windish said there is confidence to be taken from the performance against Ashe.
The third matchup between the Pioneers and the Spartans will break the series tied currently at 1-1. Both teams have won at home in the series, but the Pioneers lead the overall score 18-11.