Young core leads Pisgah baseball to first conference win

Mar. 21—Pisgah baseball seemed like it had hit a rough patch just a few weeks ago when the Bears hit a three-game losing streak.

However, the boys from Canton have flipped the script — going on a three-game winning streak that includes a Mountain 7-opening win against Franklin on Tuesday night.

"They're starting to hit their stride," Pisgah coach Harold Shepard said. "We haven't hit it yet, but we're getting close. Their mindset is right. They're practicing. They're doing what they're supposed to. They're playing baseball. We're not doing anything fancy. We're not doing anything special. We're just playing baseball."

While Pisgah scored plenty of runs in the 9-2 win, the focus of the game was on a dominant performance from freshman starting pitcher Zackary Wester.

The freshman pitched nearly the entire game, coming up on his pitch count limit just one batter short of the complete game.

Wester went 6 2/3 innings, allowing just four hits, two runs (neither of which were earned runs) and one walk, while striking out nine batters.

"It's huge. And to start it off with a freshman going the full game. We got 105 pitches out of him — 6 2/3. It was huge for any kid, but he's 15 years old. That's big. In a varsity game, under the lights — I'm proud of him," Shepard said. "Every time I've put him in a position where he can be what he is, he produces. I'm really happy with what that kid is doing. I expect a lot out of him these next four years."

Shepard said the freshman's performance will last every time the Panthers have to face off with the youngster over the next four years.

"He just permanently etched himself in Franklin's mind for the next four years and they're going to dread seeing him come across the mound," he said. "That's huge."

In the top of the first inning, Wester was already getting help from his defense, as well.

Senior Walker Fox made a fantastic leaping catch in center field on the very first at-bat of the game.

The defense stayed strong throughout.

In the top of the fifth, with the game tied at two runs each, Franklin had runners on second and third with two outs.

The Panthers had a chance to extend their lead with a big shot to left field, but freshman Isaiah Mintz was there to make a great catch to end the inning.

"Isaiah Mintz, another freshman, pulled one — he saved it," Shepard said. "It could have gone either way, and he refused to let it go the wrong way. It was a good job on his part."

The team's youngest players stepped up big under the lights in Canton.

While Wester dominated on the mound, Mintz crushed it in left field and at the plate.

Mintz went 2-2 with a double, while also drawing two walks.

Additionally, freshman Heath Rogers took the designated hitter role, scoring a run and racking up an RBI on a fielder's choice.

"Right now, I've got three freshmen starting in the field or swinging the bat on any given night," Shepard said. "I wouldn't take anything for any of them. They're doing a heck of a job, and they're fitting in with the older boys. The older boys look at them as equals."

Rogers's fielder's choice RBI was the opening score of the game in the bottom of the first.

In the top of the third, an error allowed Franklin to score two and claim the lead.

Pisgah struck back in the bottom half of the third to tie it up and from there, the game remained scoreless until the bottom of the fifth.

In the bottom of the fifth, Pisgah came alive. All season long, the Bears have seemingly found another gear once hitting the late innings of games.

"They get in a groove," Shepard said. "It's just like something clicks and when it clicks it comes in a fury. It's hot and it doesn't go away. That's what we've been practicing."

Mintz drew a walk, Fox hit a single and Rogers reached on a catcher's interference to load the bases.

Sophomore Maddox Wright stepped to the plate next, drawing a walk that scored a run and broke the tie.

Fox scored on a wild pitch in the next at-bat. That was followed by a two-RBI double from junior Carson Allison that pushed the score to 6-2.

With two outs, Pisgah loaded the bases again for senior Eli Ashe, who hit a line drive double to right field, pushing another run across the board.

"We've been doing a lot of situational hitting in practice, and it's starting to pay off," Shepard said. "We're making good cuts on balls that we need to."

In the bottom of the sixth, the Bears got after it again. Two walks and a single loaded the bases before Allison drew a walk to score the seventh run for the Bears.

Senior Eli Rigsby hit one deep to right field, scoring Fox from third on the sacrifice fly.

The win marked the third straight for the Bears and the first in Mountain 7 play. With seven teams in the conference and teams playing a two-game set in the same week, not everyone can play conference games each week.

In the first week of conference action, Pisgah was the odd man out.

Pisgah will wrap up their two-game set with Franklin on the road Friday night.