The skies were overcast, rain was threatening and winds were sometimes gusting, but that did not deter a loyal following of baseball fans from both teams attending the opening day of baseball at Tuscola’s home baseball field at 2238 Asheville Road adjacent to Lake Junaluska Elementary School.

The stands were packed on both sidelines, there were fans on both foul lines and tailgating was in session in the outfield.

Even though the contest was a scrimmage and was shortened to four innings due to regulation, which requires the umpires to only officiate a game for one hour, fans could feel the rivalry tension in the air. The game was not played last year due to COVID-19, so this year is the last chance for seniors to get in their bragging rights in the sport.

For The Mountaineers’, the chance to celebrate the team came easy for Head Coach Zach Shepherd.

“Jared Penland, a junior lefty, started on the mound for us and really, really controlled Pisgah’s bats,” he said. “They got two or three hits. It took a while for our bats to get going. Our kids had really good quality at-bats in the third, worked in several walks, and we got a couple of key hits and scored five runs to make it 6-1. We scored one more in the fourth to make the final 7-1.”

Versatile infielder Asa Allison was big at the plate for Tuscola, with three hits and two runs scored. Allison also contributed a double and a stolen base for the night. Max Riester, Zack Cabe, Josh Heatherly and Haydon Driver each had RBIs.

“It was a total team effort. We had quality at-bats, they took pitches, they worked counts and they made Pisgah make plays in the field so it was good,” Shepherd said. “The win was very important. Outside the community it was just a baseball game. But here it doesn’t matter what you play Pisgah in, you want to win. It sets the tone for the season. It sets the tone for the kids, and now we need to keep the momentum going forward.”

Pitcher Penland went four outstanding innings and got the win, registering eight strikeouts while allowing only two hits over the four innings.

Summarizing the scrimmage’s outcome, Pisgah Head Coach Harold Shepard said, “We didn’t hit very well. I don’t think that’s a good measure of who we are. Pitching-wise, we looked pretty good for three innings.”

After rescheduling the game, which was supposed to take place on April 27, but was cancelled due to other issues, Coach Shepard added, “I wasn’t going to let Jake (starting pitcher Jake Scott) go more than 65 pitches. We weren’t getting the calls we were looking for; we didn’t execute very well, and we messed up on some stuff that we should have taken care of. Simply put, we didn’t play our best game. We let them set the tone and we lost as a result.”

Overall, the game offered the Bears a measuring stick for the season

“This is a scrimmage game so it’s not really a loss. It’s not a game of record, so at the end of the day, it gave us a good feel for where we’re at and what we need to work on this week,” Shepard said. “We had some other issues that were well beyond our control. In the bigger picture that scrimmage game means even less.”

Tuscola opened its season April 27 with a home game against North Henderson. Next up is Asheville on Thursday, April 29.

“We need to sharpen up swings; we got beat by the fastball a few more times than I wanted on Friday,” said Coach Shepherd. “We need to keep dialing things in, stay aggressive on the base paths, work to sharpen things up.”

Pisgah’s next challenge will come Thursday. The game against Mitchell was originally scheduled for April 27; then the Bears will face Madison on the road on Friday.

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