Pisgah baseball snags tightly-contested County Clash victory

Apr. 2—There's nothing quite like the County Clash.

It doesn't matter what sport is being played, the crowds always show up and the teams always show out.

That was no different on Monday night when Tuscola baseball hosted their cross-county rivals. Pisgah earned the win 4-3 on the back of a great performance from freshman pitcher Zack Wester.

"He did a great job," Pisgah coach Harold Shepard said. "The kid is poised. He's going to have a great future. He's got a chance to go somewhere big if he keeps growing and keeps progressing like he's doing. I'm excited for what he's got coming and what we've got coming because of him."

Wester made quite the splash in his County Clash debut — throwing 6.1 innings and allowing just eight hits, two runs and one walk while striking out eight batters.

"It looks good for the county for the future," Tuscola coach Zack Shepherd "Their kid threw great. You have to tip your hat. We were frustrated by not making adjustments."

On the other side of the diamond, sophomore Amos Rich took the mound for Tuscola. Rich has been a star on the mound for Tuscola throughout his first two years on the high school roster.

"Amos is a good pitcher," Shepard said. "We came out right off the bat and weren't intimidated."

Hundreds showed up for the game with fans filling the bleachers, lining the fence and sitting in truck beds in the outfield.

"I don't know that they even knew how many people were actually here and it doesn't matter," Shepard said. "If they can handle this pressure, they can handle anything that comes at them after this. It was awesome for them to get to experience it. Haywood County is something special. Everything they put into the kids and the sports and the atmosphere is not what you get in other places."

Shepard said that the atmosphere around the County Clash only adds to the importance of scoring a win.

"They learn how to compete," he said. "There's pressure. It's more than just a win. It's bragging rights and everything that goes along with it. It's huge."

While the two teams don't often agree on much, Shepherd shared a similar sentiment about the environment.

"They don't realize it now how special it is, but they will," he said. "You don't see that anywhere else you go. You play a third- or fourth-round playoff game, you might get a crowd like that, but this is a regular season game. They've got to cherish it, and tonight we let one go."

For Pisgah, the win snapped a three-game losing streak in the County Clash series. Coming into Monday night's game, Tuscola had won nine of the last 11 meetings and six of the last seven.

"It's big. We've got to get ready for Friday now," Shepard said. "They know that they can do it. That should turn a corner for us. It shakes some stuff up in the conference."

While seven runs were scored in the contest, they were split between two polar opposite innings.

In the top of the first, Pisgah came out looking to grab early momentum.

"We played like we can," Shepard said. "We didn't let them set the tone. We established the tone."

The game kicked off with freshman Isaiah Mintz and senior Walker Fox each drawing a walk.

The Bears ended up with the bases loaded with just one out, as senior Eli Rigsby stepped to the plate.

"That was part of the game plan," Shepard said. "We were going to sit back and not swing at the curveball. If they faltered, we were going to jump. We've been preaching that for a while. We work on it. We came up a little bit short in some of the other innings. We left six runs on the table, maybe a few more. It could've been more in hand than it was."

Rigsby lined a ball back up the center for a two-RBI double, giving Pisgah the early lead. Then, with two outs an error allowed junior Ford Jones to reach first and two more runs to come across the plate.

The error was one of two for Tuscola on the night in crucial situations. The Mounties also had four walks on top of that.

"We played down to our level of competition. We're better than them, but they came out with a game plan and hit us in the mouth in the first inning, and we didn't respond. It's as simple as that," Shepherd said. "We have to go back to practice tomorrow and keep working."

A big momentum swing came in the bottom of the second inning. Tuscola had the bases loaded with one out. A line drive right at senior Eli Ashe was snagged for the second out.

Then, with two outs and two strikes, Tuscola junior Kolt Nelson crushed one to center field. Every baserunner was running on the swing and three runs would have likely been scored had the ball found grass. That's when one of Pisgah's senior leaders stepped up big time.

Fox made a spectacular leaping catch in center field, robbing Tuscola of three runs and a heap of momentum in the process.

"That's Walker Fox baby," Shepard said. "He made a play. I didn't think he was even going to have to leap. He must've gotten fooled, but he snatched it back. I'm happy he did. I'm excited for Walker."

Despite numerous scoring opportunities, Tuscola wasn't able to get on the scoreboard until the last possible moment. The Mounties trailed by four heading to the bottom of the seventh. Wester allowed two hits and runners to get to second and third before being pulled after 105 pitches.

"In the seventh, we showed life, but we waited too long," Shepherd said.

Ashe stepped into his place and Tuscola kept riding their newfound momentum. A double from junior Tyler Williams scored Nelson and sophomore Mason Harrell to cut the deficit in half.

Rich stepped up next and singled to cut the deficit to just one run.

"We tell them the same thing every inning — keep battling, face adversity," Shepherd said. "They'll battle. We can't have the lulls in the middle. Against East, we scored seven at the beginning and then coasted a little bit. Tonight, we waited until the end of the game. We just have to work on taking every inning like it's the last winning."

Ashe then stepped up and showed why Shepard had the faith to put him on the mound in that situation, striking out the final two batters to close out the 4-3 win.

Now, the teams prepare to face off again on Friday — this time in Canton.

The Bears will hope to roll the momentum into their first consecutive wins against Tuscola since a pair of victories in 2015.

On the other side of things, Tuscola looks to bounce back and get things back on track by avenging the loss on their home field.

"We told them with the goals they have, we can't afford another slip-up," Shepherd said. "We have practice tomorrow. We'll get everything locked back in and go over there and compete."