Minford shuts down Titans, WHS wins
By Steve Behr
MARION — Rich Minford was not supposed to pitch in Watauga’s 8-5 victory over McDowell Wednesday night.
Watauga’s Devin Presnell crosses home plate in the first inning of the Pioneers’ 8-5 win over McDowell. Photo by Bill Cain
In fact, Logan Bailey was the scheduled starter, but an inflammation in his throwing shoulder kept him off the mound and may keep him off the field for at least a week. So Minford stepped and his coach, Pete Hardee, hoped he could last at least five innings.
Minford did an inning and a third better, striking out three and keeping the Pioneers (4-6, 2-1 NWC) one step in front of the Titans the entire game.
“The thing I liked about Rich tonight is that he pitched with confidence,” Hardee said. “Rich is a good pitcher. He can mix it up and do a good job for us when he pitches with confidence.”
Minford set the Titans (1-8, 0-2) down in order in the first, third, and fifth innings. At one point, he retired eight straight batters before a Justin Johnson single in the sixth with two outs broke Minford string.
Minford got into trouble in two innings, the first time being the second inning when McDowell scored two runs on two hits. However, one of those hits was a well-placed bunt single by Davon Gardner and another Titan, Jeff Dellaney, reached base on an error.
Minford started to tire in the seventh as McDowell opened with two hits and followed with a hit batsman and a sacrifice fly from Josh Huskins. An RBI single from Larry Dixon followed by an infield single from Seth Branch forced Hardee to pull Minford and put in Lee Ammann, who got the next two Titans to pop up to end the game.
Watauga had plenty of offense to make sure the Pioneers were not in any serious trouble in the seventh. Eric Breitenstein hit a two-run home run in the first inning and Dalton Hardee had a solo shot in the fifth, the first two home runs for the Pioneers this season.
“Breitenstein’s was a shot. That was a really nice home run to left,” Pete Hardee said. “Dalton’s hit over the right field fence wasn’t as big of a shot, but it was enough to get it out of here. It was nice to score those runs.”
Devin Presnell added three more hits, all doubles, and scored three times. Michael Butler, who had three hits last Friday against Freedom, drove Presnell in twice with singles. Butler hit his second RBI single in the seventh that capped a two-run rally sparked by a squeeze bunt by Michael Nigro.
Ethan Moyer also had two infield hits and scored the first run of the game on Breitenstein’s home run.
“I told the kids that it was key to keep scoring,” Pete Hardee said. “We needed every run we had in the end.”
McDowell starter Jeremy Freeman, who relied on hitting his spots with a curveball he was throwing for strikes and then occasionally throwing a fastball, gave up nine hits in six innings. Chris Bartlett threw the seventh inning for the Titans. The two combined to scatter 12 Watauga hits.
The game was moved to McDowell because of bad weather in the Boone area Tuesday. It is the first of three straight road games for the Pioneers, who play Friday at A.C. Reynolds.
Hardee expects to see the Rockets’ standout left-hander Blane Howell. A junior, Howell is half of A.C. Reynolds’ outstanding 1-2 pitching punch. Sam Runion, a right-hander, is the other.
The Rockets can also hit the ball. A.C. Reynolds recently blasted Alexander Central 15-0 and has outscored their three NWC opponents 38-1, beating all three with the 10-run mercy rule.
“It’s another incredible challenge,” Hardee said. “It’s one of those games you like playing because you’ve got nothing to lose. We’re going to lay it on the line and give it everything we’ve got.”
Watauga 8, McDowell 5
Watauga 311 010 2 — 8 12 1
McDowell 020 000 3 — 5 9 0
Minford, Ammann (7) and Robertson. Freeman, Bartlett (7) and Vaughn. W—Minford, L—Freeman. LOB—Watauga 6, McDowell 6. 2B—Watauga, Presnell 3, T. Martin. HR—Watauga, Breitenstein, Hardee. SB—Watauga, Moyer, Presnell. SH—Watauga, Nigro, T. Martin; McDowell, Dellaney. SF—McDowell, Huskins, Staton. DP—McDowell 1. HBP—McDowell, Hames (by Minford).