TAYLORSVILLE — Watauga pitcher Ryan Fox had his hands full, in his first varsity start, facing the Alexander Cougars March 13 at Stryder Field.
The Cougars, who are one of the favorites to win the Northwestern Conference and quite possibly a contender to represent the western half of the 4-A classification at the state finals before the suspension of prep athletics March 14, greeted Fox with two runs in the first inning.
Fox regrouped and held the Cougars scoreless until he was lifted from the mound midway through the fifth inning. Alexander Central scored two runs in the sixth inning and claimed a 4-2 win on a cloudy night that was well attended by fans from both schools.
Watauga slipped to 1-4 overall, 0-2 in the Northwestern Conference. Alexander Central improved to 3-2 overall, 1-0 in the NWC.
“He had his little struggles here and there, but that kid competes no matter what,” Watauga coach Ethan Greene said of Fox. “There was never any doubt he was going to stop competing at any point. Once he found it, he was in right there a groove and kept it right there. When we get back and the next time he goes out, we’re going to be really good behind him.”
Fox got off to a rough start by giving up a single, a walk and a hit batsman to allow the Cougars to load the bases. Mason Chapman drove a single to centerfield to drive in two runs.
Alexander Central loaded the bases again when Fox hit Dalton Stikeleather with a pitch, but Fox got a ground ball from Eli Walsh, which was thrown to Watauga catcher Jacob Dilley to get the out. Fox followed with a strikeout to get the Pioneers out of the inning.
Alexander Central continued to put runners on base, but stopped scoring runs agianst Fox. He set the Cougars’ back to the bench in order in the third inning, and Alexander Central failed to score in the fourth inning despite loading the bases.
“It’s a big moment for him in his young career,” Greene said. “To fight back the way he did and give us a chance, that was huge for us.”
Fox got the first Cougar out in the fifth inning and was lifted in favor of Jackson Miller, who finished the game on the mound for the Pioneers. Alexander Central scored two runs in the seventh inning to take a 4-0 lead that was enough to get the Cougars the win.
“We’ve been struggling with the bat a little bit and I thought that Fox threw the ball really well,” Alexander Central coach Pete Hardee said. “He really pounded the zone and didn’t give us anything. We got a big hit from our left fielder Mason Chapman. That two-out single was huge for us and when we got those insurance runs I felt better about it.”
Watauga had moderate success against Alexander Central lefty Maddox Kerley. The Pioneers did not get a hit off Kerley until Rivers Gore singled with two outs in the second inning, Gore reached second base, but was stranded.
Watauga had its best shot, at least before the top of the seventh inning when it scored two runs, in the top of the fourth inning. Jake Watson belted a Kerley offering for a double with one out the inning.
Watson reached third base on a wild pitch.
Dilley walked, but was picked off first base by Kerley. While Dilley was being chased by Alexander Central first baseman Bryson Hammer, Watson broke for home, but was thrown out at the plate by Hammer.
Watson picked up two of the Pioneers’ four hits. Gore rapped out the other two, including an RBI single in the seventh inning that drove in Watson, who opened the inning with a single. Miller walked after Watson’s hit and scored on a fielder’s choice from Sterling Sauls, bringing the Pioneers to within 4-2.
Kerley walked three Pioneers and picked two off of first base. He also struck out 10 Pioneers, including the first four of the game.
Alexander Central had four hits, but benefitted from three walks and six hit batsmen. In a quirky chain of events, Fox hit Alexander Central catcher Jacob Bebber in three straight at-bats with a pitch.
Bebber never scored a run after being hit by a pitch, but Elder scored in the sixth inning after being hit by Miller with a pitch.
“Hitting one guy three times, that’s Friday the 13th stuff for you, if you believe in that stuff,” Greene said. “At the same time, you don’t really realize the extra opportunities the other guys are going to get later in the game that can hurt you. It puts the whole game into a different situation, so if we avoid that, things play out differently and we probably come out better from that.”