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Stephens, Knights hold off Cavs, 3-2

Posted: April 13, 2017 4:43 p.m.
Updated: April 14, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

NORTH CENTRAL THIRD BASEMAN Jeremiah Jenkins comes out firing in fielding an RNE bunt in Wednesday’s game at American Legion Park in Camden.

Changing the lineup resulted in a change --- for the good --- in fortune for North Central.

After having fallen to in-county rivals Lugoff-Elgin and Camden in the first two rounds of the Kershaw-Richland Wooden Bat Tournament, the Knights closed their stay in the Camden portion of the four-day event with a 3-2 win over 4A Richland Northeast in a Wednesday matinee.

NC head coach Robbie Cash, whose team faced Crestwood in Thursday’s fifth-place game, said he hoped this win would be a good kickoff to an all-important final week of the regular season. Next week, the Knights host Chesterfield on Tuesday with Central coming in on Friday with the hosts looking to finish second in Region 4-AA play.

“It’s huge for us,” Cash said of his team’s two conference games. “Right now, though, we’re going to play (Crestwood) in Richland County tomorrow and see if we can’t go 2-2 in this thing and then, go play Chesterfield on Tuesday.”

Backed by a new-look lineup, NC trotted out senior right-hander Chase Stephens and he came through with a complete game. He scattered nine hits with five strikeouts. The contest was his last scheduled start before taking the hill Tuesday. With six days between starts, Cash said he wanted to stretch his team’s pitching ace out.

“This was the first time, lately, that we let Chase go more than 60 pitches,” said the eighth-year NC boss. “I wanted him to go longer today to get him ready for Tuesday.”

The Knights got to RNE starter Matthew Davidson for a pair in a bottom of the first inning which opened with Stephens, who was moved into the leadoff slot, working his way for a walk before stealing second and taking third on a wild pitch. Stephens scored the game’s first run when Kevin Smith followed by lining a double along the left field line. With one gone, Chance Mangum rapped an RBI double to left to give Stephens an early 2-0 cushion.

Stephens would work himself out of jams all afternoon as the Cavaliers left runners on first and second in the first, had the bases loaded in the second as Stephens got a fly ball out to Smith in right to end the inning before RNE had a runner left on second in a scoreless third.

The Knights manufactured a run in the home half of the third with cam Holley reaching on a one-out error. He then landed safely on second after being involved in a rundown while advancing to third on a wild pitch. Holley, moved from leadoff to third in the batting order, came home on a two-out single to right off the bat of Jeremiah Jenkins to make it 3-0.

Stephens’ Houdini-like escape act ended in the top of the fourth as the Cavs received back-to-back RBI singles from Isaiah Manning and John Muller to make it 3-2.

The Cavs threatened to even things in the top of the sixth after Manning legged out a one-out infield single and then swiped second. But Muller hit a sinking liner to Holley which the shortstop grabbed while going to his left which allowed him to step on second for the unassisted double play.

Stephens had another trick up his sleeve as he pitched his way around Henry Taylor’s leadoff single in the seventh. Taylor was on third with two outs when Holley came in to field a hard-hit Tucker Bates ground ball and fire to first to end the game.

Holley, who joked that he had not batted third since he was in the fourth grade, did not collect a hit in the game but did not let that bother him at shortstop.

“Cam does a lot of good things for us in the field and at the plate,” Cash said of Holley’s value. “He’s been struggling a little at the plate but as long as we win, he’s happy. 

“The play he made in the sixth for a double play was huge. If he doesn’t make that play, it’s through for a hit, we have a tie ballgame and we’re still playing. Then, their last at-bat, a guy hits a rocket at him and he fields it and throws the guy out for the final out.”

The Knights, who had seven hits with Smith having a double and a single, threatened to get more insurance runs in the fifth only to have RNE reliever Eli Prieto bear down as the hosts left runners hanging on the corners.

Cash said his team wanted to win this game. At the same time, he looked upon the contest and this tournament for what it is, a four-game stretch which has no bearing on the postseason and a week which other students are enjoying a week away from school.

“I want to let all 14 of our guys play because if they’re giving us their time during spring break, I want them all to play a little bit,” he said with a smile.

“It’s a spring break tournament so we did a little bit of everything today. We changed the lineup around, I called pitches and coaches (Erik) Densmore and (Brandon) Faulkenberry called the offense for us. We changed things both as a coaching staff and player-wise just to shake things up and break up the monotony of playing four games in four days. You can get in a rut if you’re not careful so we decided to shake things up and give everybody a surprise.”

 

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