BOONE — A shaky start befuddled the Wilkes County 12-and-under all-stars in Thursday night’s District 2 championship game against Ashe County.
That’s when Head Coach Jamey Bare called for a mound visit, and he had a simple message for the players — just calm down and relax.
His words seemed to pay dividends as Wilkes County took control of the game from there and pulled away for an 11-1 win at Industrial Field to secure its spot in the Tar Heel League 12-and-under state tournament.
“I said just calm down and relax, weather the storm, throw strikes and get ahead,” said Bare. “I told them to remember to do the checklist, which is know where the runners are at, know where they’re going, where the ball is hit and how many outs and just stay patient.”
Ashe County, which was playing its third-straight elimination game after a 13-10 win over Hickory on Wednesday night, started off strong. Isabella Farmer led off the game with a single and Hannah Osborne reached on a fielder’s choice.
Ally Greer gave the visitors an early 1-0 lead with a single to left field. It was the first run that Wilkes County had allowed the entire tournament.
But Wilkes County (3-0) settled down as pitcher Deandra Walker recorded back-to-back strikeouts before Abby Sheets flew out to second baseman Ralee Bare to end the inning.
After the shaky first, Walker allowed only one more hit (Callie Williams singled in the fourth) and one other player to reach base (a Gabby Hilliard hit by pitch in the third) the remainder of the game.
Walker allowed just three hits and struck out seven with no walks to pick up the win.
“We could not be where we are without Deandra. She was a workhorse,” said Jamey Bare. “But really the entire team stood out to me; it was a true team effort. They did a lot of little things, got big hits, they stayed in the game and fought hard.”
The offense backed Walker in the bottom of the first as it responded with five runs, highlighted by a pair of RBI doubles from Rylee Howell and Savannah Johnson (Johnson was tagged out attempting to advance to third).
Mikalynn Kinder and Walker added RBI singles. Johnson, Howell and Walker all finished with two hits apiece.
Wilkes County traded an out for a run in the third inning as Allie Farrington scored Johnson with an RBI groundout to push its lead to 6-1 after three complete.
After the game, Jamey Bare felt the early struggles were a good thing for the team to go through. He also pointed to the 4-0 win against Hickory on Tuesday where Wilkes held a one-run lead after the first three innings as another good example.
“We battled. This was good for our girls,” said Bare. “And Tuesday was good for them. It was a dogfight but our girls are gritty, they’re tough and that was good for us; I hope it prepares us for state.”
Wilkes utilized some aggressive base running in the fourth.
After Ralee Bare led off with a walk, she then stole a pair of bases during Kinder’s at-bat. Kinder also drew a walk and then stole second while Bare stole home and ultimately came around to score.
Farrington, who finished with three runs batted in, pushed the lead to 10-1 with an RBI single. After a Katie Owens flyout and a Layla Winters walk, Bare ended the game via the mercy rule with an RBI single.
According to Jamey Bare, he wanted to use some aggressive base running to generate some runs, and it paid off as Wilkes stole nine bases.
“That was the plan. We’ve got a lot of speed, got a lot of smart base runners too and we got to play a little small ball — we like to put it in play and see what happens,” said Bare.
Wilkes County will now turn its attention to the Tar Heel League state tournament, which takes place July 18-21 in Currituck, and will look to defend its state championship for the 12-and-under division.
Bare also knows that there’s plenty to work on over the next three weeks.
“We’ve got to work on hitting and keep working on defense,” said Bare. “Defense wins championships and we’ve got to continue with repetitions and keep working hard because everything we do is for a purpose.
“I want to thank the good Lord above for giving us safe travels, keeping us safe on the field and providing us an opportunity to play this great game,” added Bare.
District 2 was originally slated to have one representative (the district champion) in the upcoming state tournament. But due to an at-large representative from another district dropping out, Ashe County will now advance to the state tournament as an at-large team.