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Cheraw plates six in seventh to top NC, 10-9

Posted: April 30, 2013 3:09 p.m.
Updated: May 1, 2013 5:00 a.m.

BRODERICK GAITHER HAD THREE of North Central’s eight hits in Monday’s season-ending loss to Cheraw in the third round of the AA District 4 tournament. The Knights finished the year with a school-record 15 wins.

There are gut-wrenching ways to end your season and then, there is how North Central’s 2013 baseball campaign came to an end.
Carrying a 9-4 lead into the bottom of the seventh against host Cheraw in Monday’s AA District 4 elimination game, the visiting Knights saw the Braves score six runs on a pair of hits while taking advantage of four NC errors to come away with the improbable 10-9 victory.
The win sent Cheraw into tonight’s district championship at Chesterfield with the Braves having to beat their Region 4-AA rival twice in order to advance into the AA Upper State tournament.
The loss capped a 15-91-1 campaign for Robbie Cash’s charges which will lose seven seniors from his Region 3-AA runners-up including multi-year starters Ryan Baker, J.P. Faulkenberry, Grayson King, Josh Ross and Jay Williams. Together, that group will leave the school on a sour note, although they represent the winningest senior class in the history of the baseball program.
“I really hate it for our seniors. They have done everything that we asked of them,” Cash said following the loss. “The 15 wins are the most in school history in one season … but I sure wish we could have got that 16th win.”
The evening got off to a strong start for NC, which fell to Cheraw, 2-0, in last Thursday’s tourney opener in Boonetown, as the Knights scored four runs on two hits in the top of the first.
The inning opened with Broderick Gaither legging out a leadoff single for the first of his three hits in the game. Faulkenberry followed with a single to right off CHS starter Dylan Jackson and the guests were quickly in business. King loaded the bases with a walk before Tyler Bowers was hit by a pitch to bring the first run across. Faulkenberry and King scored on a wild pitch and a passed ball before Cam Holley draw a walk, putting an end to Jackson’s stint as Braves’ coach David Byrd brought in Winston Martin. Martin fanned the three batters he faced in the first, but not until a wild pitch plated Bowers with the fourth run.
Cheraw got a run back in the first before knotting things at 4-4 with a three-run third which included a two-run Dylan Driggers double followed by an R.J. Turner double to center. An inning later, Cash took Bowers from the mound and put the freshman behind the plate while bringing in his team’s ace, King.
“Tyler was throwing well and he is a third-year starter,” Cash said of the decision to lift the freshman in favor of the senior. “Tyler has been and will be a stalwart for this team, but I just felt, at that point in the game, that it was time to bring in the senior and, our most experienced player and pitcher.”
The problems for the home team continued in the fifth as NC sent nine batters to the plate, scoring three times while chasing Jackson from the box in the process.
Gaither led off with a single to left. When Faulkenberry walked on a 3-2 count, it brought Kaleb Leviner ---who beat NC in game one --- to the mound to face King, who drew a walk to load the bases with no outs. Bowers then sent a liner to right to knock in two runs. John Bowers, who was running for King, scored on Jay Williams’ one-out single as the lead grew to 7-4. But NC could not push any more runs across as it left the bags jammed.
An inning later, NC boosted the lead to 9-4 when Gaither, again, opened things with a single to start the sixth. A King single advanced Gaither to third while King took second on the throw back to the infield. Gaither scored on a wild pitch while Josh Shropshire, who was running for King, came in on a wild pitch as the advantage mushroomed to five runs.
Cash said that King, who threw a complete game against Cheraw last Thursday, was on his game Monday night.
“Grayson threw the ball as well as he’s had in the past few weeks; maybe, even this whole season,” said the fourth-year NC head coach. “He was keeping his ball down and he was throwing all four of his pitches for strikes. His velocity was real good, too.”
King, who did not give up a hit in his first three innings of relief, was greeted by a Michael Ballard single to lead off the seventh. Back-to-back walks loaded the bases. Next came, in order, a ground ball out, an NC error and a two-base error. And, suddenly, Cheraw had closed the gap to 9-8. Another infield error on a Turner ground ball allowed Driggers to score the tying run with one out.
 The courtesy runner for the Braves’ catcher then stole second and headed for third on the overthrow. He was called safe when the throw to third was dropped as the hosts kept the inning alive. Clayton Hurst went down swinging for the second out, but a wild pitch allowed the winning run to come across.
“When we were up 9-4,” Cash said, “we were feeling good, but we were still playing with plenty of intensity. But we made four errors in the last inning. I just feel terrible for our guys. Then again, I tip my hat to Cheraw for battling through adversity.”
The game was played in what Cash called a “heated atmosphere” with fans on both sides letting the umpires know of their dissatisfaction with calls throughout the game. While admitting there were some questionable calls which went for and against his team, Cash was not about to blame the three umpires for the loss.
“The umpires played an integral part in this game,” he said. “At the same time, though, they didn’t make those four errors in the seventh inning. If we make the plays in the seventh, we come away with the win. You can’t blame the umpires for that.”


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