Heading into Tuesday nightâ€™s game versus East Lincoln, not many outside of the Rebelsâ€™ baseball community knew who Jake Watts was.
After six innings of shutout baseball and five strikeouts in front of nearly 300 people, they do now.
Watts, only a freshman, entered the game in the bottom of the sixth inning with the bases loaded and no outs. Three pitches later, he escaped having only allowed one run on a squeeze bunt.
â€œJake has no fear. He doesnâ€™t know heâ€™s a freshman. He doesnâ€™t know heâ€™s supposed to be nervous out there. He doesnâ€™t know heâ€™s supposed to give up runs. He just comes in and does what heâ€™s used to doing. He just pitches and gets out of it, so Iâ€™m real proud of him and proud of all the kids,â€ Rebelsâ€™ head coach Allan Chapman said.
The southpaw credited his teammates for most of his success.
â€œAll my teammates cheered me up the whole time. During the game whenever I was pitching and in the dugout. I pulled myself together too,â€ he said.
Watts, in the midst of the storm, also silently asked the Lord to help him in pressure situations.
â€œWell to tell you the truth, I prayed and then I just threw the ball and Chris calmed me down a little bit,â€ he said.
Chapman felt Watts, who mainly throws a fastball and change-up, did a great job of pitching his way out of jams. According to the coach, thatâ€™s nothing unusual. Against Fred T. Foard with the score 2-2 in the top of the 10th, Watts entered the game with the bases loaded and no outs. He allowed no runs
â€œWe got out of situations. We battled and got out of situations; they put pressure on us all day. I felt like we handled the pressure on the mound and defensively,â€ he said.
While Watts (3-0) turned in a stellar pitching performance, he also was the beneficiary of solid defense behind him. Senior Dustin Hester, who had the game-winning hit, also had the game-changing defensive play.
In the bottom of the fifth with the Rebels clinging to a 6-5 lead, the Mustangs had the bases loaded with Greyson Schram up to bat. Schram, the Mustangsâ€™ top hitter, looped one into shallow right field that looked to be trouble. Hester chased after it.
â€œIt looked real short. When I noticed it was over my head; I didnâ€™t really think, I just took off after it. I didnâ€™t have time to think. I just took off and laid out for it,â€ he said of his snow cone catch.
The play, in all likelihood, saved two runs and ended the inning.
Schram admitted after the game his team had opportunities, but just couldnâ€™t come through with the clutch hit.
â€œWe played good defense and we had the bases loaded quite a bit. We just couldnâ€™t get any runners in and that killed us. We only had six hits the whole game,â€ he said.
As for the Rebels, the game was sweet redemption having lost to the Mustangs twice on the season (the second one being a 9-8 loss).
â€œIt felt great to finally beat them. I know theyâ€™re not that much better. Theyâ€™re never two games better than us, so it felt great to come out and have a good ballgame and win it,â€ Hester said.
It was also a night Watts displayed talent, maturity and poise beyond his years.
by John Mark Brooks