By Bryan Lail
Special to the Democrat
When Wilkes National and Watauga took the field Monday afternoon at Optimist Park in the District 7 Junior League All-Star Tournament, it was obvious that players and fans alike were in for an interesting evening of baseball.
Donning the same shade of navy blue with only a white stripe along the shoulders to distinguish the two teams from one another, Wilkes National jumped out to an early lead wth a dominant first inning of offense.
Wilkes’ pitching would leave Watauga reeling and unable to recover in a 9-6 loss.
“The whole dugout was pretty much down after that first inning,” Watauga’s Clint Trivette said.
Wilkes starting pitcher Kyle Zelesky would fire off a mere seven pitches to record the first three outs for Wilkes National, attempting to set an early tone that would be quickly broken by Trivette in the second with a home run that went over the left field wall.
Watauga’s Brian Miller gets ready to tag out a Wilkes County runner at second base Monday night. Photo by Mark Mitchell
Zelesky would go on to atone for one of his few mistakes in five innings of work when he came to the plate in the third inning with Nationals’ William Johnson on third base. Zelesky hit a dribbler straight at Watauga starting pitcher Matt Proffitt.
The ball took a bounce off the mound, preventing Watauga from making a play at first base and allowing the two-out run to score.
The play gave Wilkes a 5-1 advantage. Proffitt would end the inning with a strike out, stranding Zelesky.
In the bottom half of the inning, Proffitt would mirror Zelesky’s efforts with a two-out RBI of his own as his liner over second would score Jacob Gainey, who had advanced to third on an earlier single by Tyler Jones.
Gainey’s run pulled Watauga to within 5-2.
Jones would eventually score on an errant throw to second base in an attempt to pick off Proffitt to decrease the deficit to 5-3.
Despite each attempt at a rally, the Wilkes bats could not be contained. Wilkes scored two more runs in the fourth and another in the fifth to take an 8-3 lead.
Watauga’s best opportunity to rally would come in the fifth inning with one out when Trivette would be intentionally passed with first base open in favor of Matt Byrom. Given the opportunity, Byrom delivered with a hard hit ball into left field which would score two runners still with two outs remaining.
Zelesky would prevent any more damage however, shutting down the next two batters to represent the tying run and stranding a hopeful Trivette and Byrom.
After an insurance run for Wilkes in the sixth, Watauga would plate one more on another second base miscue to bring the game to it’s final score of 9-6.
Brought in as a relief pitcher in the top half of the inning, Trivette would load the bags with a single and two hit-batsmen before recording a strike out and grounder to end the inning, preventing any further runs scored by Wilkes and leaving open an opportunity in the bottom half of the inning that Watauga would be unable to capitalize on.
“We could have had better overall pitching, better defense and we could have hit the ball a lot better than we did,” Trivette said. “We’ve hit the ball better in practice.”
Watauga head coach Jody Shuford echoed his young stars comments after the game.
“We just had trouble pitching and hitting,” Shuford said.