HICKORY — The Wilkes County junior league all-stars bounced back in a big way late Wednesday night.
Thanks to timely hitting and a stellar performance on the mound from Jared Whittington, Wilkes County defeated Hickory 13-3 in the loser’s bracket finals of the Tar Heel League District 2 baseball tournament at Stanford Park.
The win set up a rematch between Wilkes County and Watauga tonight at 6 for the district championship and a spot in the THL state tournament.
After being defeated by Watauga 12-1 in the opening round Monday night, Wilkes County took it right to Hickory on Wednesday and ended the game in the bottom of the sixth via the mercy rule.
Wilkes plated three runs in the first inning, highlighted by a Reid Kyle RBI double and Mason Lyon’s two-run single.
Hickory, which dropped a 10-7 decision to Watauga in the Wednesday’s early game, had something going in the top of the third when Blake Evans reached on a fielder’s choice and stole a pair of bases while Eli Rose drew a two-out walk.
Rose made it 3-1 when he scored following a balk by Whittington. But second baseman Zane Rhoades snagged a liner off the bat of Isaiah McDowell to help Whittington work out of the jam.
Aside from the third-inning hiccup, Whittington was superb on the mound, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Rose broke up the no-hit bid with a one-out single.
The rising sophomore at West Wilkes allowed just one earned run on three hits with two walks and eight strikeouts in six innings of work to pick up the win. He also went 3-for-4 at the plate to lead four Wilkes players with multiple hits.
Wilkes County’s bats backed Whittington with 11 hits (after mustering just three against Watauga) but also stranded eight base runners, which included loading the bases in the third and fifth innings.
Wilkes also loaded the bases in the fourth after Mason Lyon (reached on an error), Austin Blackburn (single) and Lance Bare (walk) reached base.
But this time around, Wilkes County was able to capitalize. First, Lyon scored when a pitch from Evans hit Colin Barlow and then Bare scored when Rhodes was hit by another pitch from Evans.
Mason Billings, who went 2-for-4 at the plate, pushed the lead to 8-1 when he roped a bases clearing triple.
Hickory (0-2) cut Wilkes’ lead to 9-3 in the top of the sixth thanks to a two-run double from Isaac Benitez.
Wilkes County (1-1) put the game out of reach in the bottom half of the inning behind an RBI single from Kyle and a two-run single from Avery Aiken.
After a Jake Lunsford fielder’s choice, Lyon ended the game with an RBI single.
In addition to Whittington and Billings, Kyle and Lyon each finished with two hits apiece.
Notes: Wednesday’s second game was scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. but the previous game between Hickory and Watauga went into extra innings and did not start until almost 9:30 p.m. (the game ended just before 11:30 p.m.) In Monday’s loss to Watauga, Whittington, Rhodes and Kyle had Wilkes’ only hits of the game. Kyle also drove in the lone run with an RBI double in the fourth inning.