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Knights outlast AJ in 11, 7-6

Posted: March 30, 2017 11:32 a.m.
Updated: March 31, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

KEATON GARDNER’S LEADOFF SINGLE in the third inning led to a three-run North Central rally in Monday’s win over AJ.

Some wins are sweeter than others. For North Central, it doesn’t get any better than a victory over rival Andrew Jackson, no matter how long it takes.

The Knights used RBI singles from Chase Stephens and Tyler Faulkenberry in the top of the 11th to break a 5-5 tie and then hung on for a 7-6 win in Kershaw Monday night. 

“I’ve never been a part of an 11-inning game either as a player in high school, college or as a coach,” said eighth-year NC head coach Robbie Cash of a game which lasted three and quarter hours.

The victory gave Cash’s charges a 4-2 record in Region 4-AA play and a season sweep of the Volunteers with both victories coming by one run.

The Knights (6-6) collected 15 hits in the marathon with Stephens going 4-for-5 while Cam Holley had a 3-for-5 night. Junior Chance Mangum had a pair of hits while driving in three runs.

After Cash blamed himself for having a runner thrown out at home trying to score on a single in the first inning, AJ jumped to a 2-0 lead with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first off starter Dalton Truesdale. “Dalton was a little shaky in the first inning pitching in a tough road game like this,” Cash said. “I thought he did a real good job of settling down and only giving up two runs.”

Two innings later, the Knights scored three times to take a 3-2 advantage.

Keaton Gardner kicked things off with a two-out single to center. A walk to Holley followed before Stephens lined a single to left. A throwing error on the play allowed Gardner to score while Holley and Stephens landed on third and second base, respectively. Consecutive singles from Jeremiah Jenkins and Kevin Smith drove in a run each as the guests went on top, 3-2.

“Keaton has done a great job all year from the nine hole in the order and getting on base for Cam and Chase at the top of our order,” Cash said of Gardner. “Keaton did a great job with two outs of working the count and getting a pitch he likes. That has worked, pretty well, for all our guys this year.”

The Knights added two more runs in the fourth with Holley sending a two-out single to left before stealing second. Stephens then walked before Mangum’s double to left center drove both runners home to make it a 5-2 lead.

The Vols scored twice in the fourth --- helped along by a pair of NC errors --- and added a run in the fifth to knot things at 5-5 which is the way it stayed until the 11th but only after NC had a chance to score in the eighth as Wesley Roberts, who led off the inning with a single, was waved home from third on a Holley single only to be thrown out at the plate.

“You have to take a chance in extra innings and we thought we took the right one,” Cash said of trying to regain the lead.

Holley led off the top of the 11th by being hit by a pitch. He then stole both second and third before scoring on a Stephens single to center. Stephens, who took second on the play, was bunted to third by Mangum before scoring the seventh run on Faulkenberry’s single through the box.

The Volunteers scored a run in their half of the 11th and had the tying run on third only for Stephens to get a strikeout and a ground ball to second base to close the game.

Stephens was the third NC pitcher of the night. The senior right-hander worked four innings of one-hit ball while fanning two. The run which he surrendered in the 11th was unearned.

Truesdale got the starting nod for the Knights and went the first 4.1 innings before Faulkenberry came on in relief in the fifth. He would hold the Vols without a run in his stint before Stephens came on to start the eighth inning.

Cash said he had an ace in the hole by waiting until the right time to send Stephens to the mound.

“We knew that we had Chase ready to go and after Tyler did a great job for us, we decided that we wanted to give them a different look on the mound,” he said. 

The Knights are scheduled to travel to Lee Central for two five inning games today at 5:15 p.m. A sweep would give them a 6-2 4-AA record heading into a Tuesday home game with Cheraw, which downed NC, 4-7, in their first meeting.

“We’re excited to be where we are in region play but we’re not going to let up,” Cash said. “If we can get two wins (tonight) it would set us up well for a stretch run where we play three of our final four region games at home.”

 

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