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Cheraw stays alone atop Region 4-AA

...following 11-4 victory over Knights

Posted: April 6, 2017 1:27 p.m.
Updated: April 7, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

NORTH CENTRAL’S WESLEY ROBERTS bends his body in order to get out of the way of this inside pitch from Cheraw’s Jonathan Gordon in Tuesday’s game in Boonetown.

Having watched his team wiggle out of a top of the first inning mess without allowing a run to visiting Cheraw, North Central baseball coach Robbie Cash was hoping it would be an omen for the rest of the evening.

Instead, the Braves used that as a stepping off point to what would be an 11-4 win over the host Knights in a Region 4-AA game played Tuesday in Boonetown.

After not having scratched in the first, Cheraw scored its 11 runs over the next five frames to hike its conference record to a circuit-best 9-1. The loss dropped NC to 6-3 in league play heading into tonight’s contest in Buford.

Cash later said that his team having dodged a bullet in a top of the first in which Cheraw put them first two batters on before coming up empty in the inning may have been the momentum-builder which the Knights needed against a team which it lost to, 7-4, in their first meeting this season.

“I thought it was good that we were able to get out of that inning by not allowing a run,” said the eighth-year NC head coach. “After that, they barreled some balls up. It is what it is, though. Sometimes what you call, they hit. 

“Tonight, we did a bad job of calling pitches. Me and coach (Brandon) Faulkenberry have to wear that hat. We called some fastballs where we should have called curveballs and called curveballs where we should have called fastballs.”

The Braves, ranked fourth in the most recent South Carolina Baseball Coaches Association AA state rankings, did their damage on a dozen hits off three NC starters opening with senior Chase Stephens who gave way to Cam Holley before sophomore Tyler Faulkenberry closed the night on the mound in what were glorified bullpen sessions for the trio, Cash said.

With an important game on tap tonight, Cash decided to pull the plug on Stephens with one out in the third inning with the hosts trailing, 5-0.

“That’s why we decided to make a quick decision on Chase,” Cash said of lifting the right-hander so early in the game. “Chase was throwing the ball fine but we figured that with the new pitch-count rule let’s get him out of there and give everybody some work.

“We didn’t practice (Monday, due to the weather) and we knew during this game that we would have a half day (Wednesday) because of the weather, so we won’t be practicing. We had to use this game as a bullpen for all three guys to get them ready for Buford.”

Cheraw put three runners on base --- with one hit --- in the first and did not score. David Byrd’s squad did not misfire in the second.

McKenny Goodale opened the frame by dropping a single into left. A Cam Hurst single to center followed. With one gone and both runners in scoring position, number nine batter Bradley Hollimon  sent a two-run double to the gap in right center before scoring the third run on a wild pitch.

The Braves upped the lead to 5-0 with a pair in the third as Wade Lofton and Goodale kicked things off with consecutive singles with both scoring on Hunter Polson’s single through the box to make it a 5-0 lead while ending Stephens’s night.

The five runs were plenty for CHS starter Jonathan Gordon. The righty breezed through the first two innings before running into trouble in a bottom of the third.A Dalton Truesdale single to right opened the frame. With one gone, Holley delivered a single to left. A walk to Stephens loaded the bases and with two gone, Faulkenberry ripped a two-run, opposite field single to right. Stephens, however, was gunned down trying to go from first to third on the hit to end the inning. That, Cash said, was on him.

“We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times tonight,” he said. “We ran into some plays, some outs, that we shouldn’t have. 

“It was one of those things where we didn’t have enough time to work on them. We were off yesterday and, the last couple days, and we didn’t spend enough time on base running and it showed tonight.”

Cheraw padded its lead to 8-2, scoring three unearned runs in a fourth in which Goodale and Hurst drove in runs with back-to-back singles in an inning marred by a pair of NC errors.

An inning later, the Braves used a Tallon Campbell single to knock in Cooper Thurman with the ninth run to extend their lead to 9-2.

The seven-run cushion allowed Byrd to go to his bullpen and bring in hard-throwing righty Bradley Hollimon to take over for Gordon who allowed two runs on three hits while striking out five in four innings of work.

“We struggled against him the last time in Cheraw,” Cash said of Gordon. “He came in and shut us down for a couple innings up there and they came back with him tonight. He did a good job keeping us off stride with off-speed pitches.”

Throwing only one curveball in his three innings of work, Hollimon was touched up for a run in the fifth as Holley drew a one-out walk and went to second on a Stephens single to left. A two-out Faulkenberry walk loaded the bases for pinch-hitter Dylan Frazier, who brought Holley in while reaching base on a catcher’s interference. Hollimon avoided further damage by getting a strikeout as the Knights were only able to chop into the deficit by one at 9-3.

Cheraw scored a pair in the sixth on Hollimon’s one-out, two run single to center which gave him two hits and four RBI in four at-bats.

The Knights closed the scoring with a run in the bottom of the sixth as Truesdale sent a one-out single to right for his second hit of the night. He would score on Stephens’ single to center which loaded the bags with one gone. Cheraw would get Hollimon out of trouble with an inning-ending double play to keep an 11-4 lead.

The hosts collected seven hits on the night with Truesdale and Stephens having two each.

Following the loss, Cash tipped his hat to Cheraw while saying his team had no choice other than to look ahead to tonight’s game and stay in the hunt for a region title or, at least, a first round home playoff game.

“They’re ranked number four in the state for a reason,” Cash said of the Braves. “They were able to barrel some balls up when we left pitches up a bit. They hit the ball hard after we got behind in a couple counts … we just didn’t play well.

“We just have to get ready to go out and play Buford (tonight) get it back and be right where we need to be.”

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