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Knights enter playoffs on losing note

Posted: April 24, 2017 3:25 p.m.
Updated: April 25, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

CHANCE MANGUM LAYS DOWN a successful sacrifice bunt in North Central’s 6-0 loss to Central in Friday’s regular season finale in Boonetown.

Without a chance to budge from third place in Region 4-AA and with a state tournament opener on deck Tuesday, North Central head baseball coach Robbie Cash could have treated Friday’s regular season  finale with visiting Central as an exhibition game.

With his team coming off a 3-2 loss to Camden Military Academy two nights earlier, however, the last thing the Knights’ boss wanted was for his club to enter the postseason on a two-game skid.

The hosts were still in striking position after five frames only to see the Eagles score three unearned insurance runs in the sixth to leave Boonetown with a 6-0 victory. Central, which finished second in 4-AA, swept its series with the Knights, who are scheduled to travel to Ninety Six in tonight’s District 1 opener at 7 p.m.

When asked if his team may have looked past this game since it meant nothing in the conference standings or, where NC would head for the playoffs, Cash quickly brushed off that notion.

“No. I thought we played pretty hard tonight,” he said after his team finished 7-5 in league play. “It was a 1-0 game and then, we kicked around a couple balls around.

“I thought we played hard tonight and, let’s give (Central) credit; they’re second in this region and top 10 in the state for a reason. They had a left-hander out there who throws a good curveball, then they come in with a guy who throws 85 (miles per hour) before finishing with a sidearmer who throws about 65. Those are three tough looks to get in the same night going back-to-back-to-back.”

The Eagles started Jake Savage for the combined one-hitter and the lefty went the first 5.1 innings before giving way to the hard-throwing Quan Chambers. Savage allowed a first inning single to Chase Stephens, which was NC’s lone hit of the night. Savage finished with three strikeouts while issuing three walks. Chambers finished the sixth before giving way to Jacob Aldridge, a submarine specialist, who fanned two in a scoreless seventh.

NC started Dalton Truesdale who gave way to Cam Holley in the fourth with Tyler Faulkenberry working the sixth and seventh in what amounted to a trio of public bullpen sessions for the three right-handers.

“We came into this game wanting to throw three guys and we accomplished that,” Cash said. “Tonight, I just wish we would have hit the ball better.”

NC’s lone scoring opportunity came in the home half of the first which opened with Holley drawing a leadoff walk and advancing to second on a Stephens single to center. The pair moved up a base on a Chance Mangum sacrifice bunt only to be left hanging in scoring position as Savage worked his way out of the jam with a strikeout and a ground out to shortstop Kevon Wall.

Central dented the board with a run in the second as Chambers hit a leadoff double off Truesdale. Jaylen Wilson followed by sending an RBI single to left to make it 1-0. The NC defense halted the damage with Jeremiah Jenkins leaving his feet to make a diving stab of a Jemiah Smith liner before Holley lost his footing before making a spinning throw to Mangum at first to get Walker Kirkley by a step.

The Eagles tacked on a pair of unearned runs in the fourth thanks to a pair of NC errors in what would be Truesdale’s final inning of work before being lifted in favor of Holley after the first three Central batters --- two of whom would score to make it 3-0 --- each got on base.The NC offense tested Wall six times in the first four innings and each time, the Eagle shortstop made the plays by throwing six strikes to 6-foot-4 first baseman B.R. Hatcher for half the outs in the opening four frames.Cash said his team needed to find someone else on the field to test rather than Wall, who lived up to his last name in not allowing anything to get past him on seven tries on this night.“That’s the fundamental problem when they pitch a left-hander who works inside,” he said. “We were pulling balls to shortstop. We have to be able to do a better job of hitting the ball to the back side in those situations.”The trio of Eagles pitchers faced the minimum 12 batters over the fourth through seventh innings with Savage getting a double play ball behind him to close the fifth.Central scored three more runs in the sixth on one hits while taking advantage of three errors to do the damage.“We came out early and played OK. Then, we started kicking a couple balls around and the next thing you know, it’s 6-0,” Cash said. “It was a couple guys (making the errors) and not anyone in particular. Then, we walked a couple guys … we just didn’t play smart.”Friday’s game was the third in four nights for North Central whose coach admitted that for as hard as his players played on this night, not all cylinders may have been clicking.“This was our third game in four days and there may have been a little mental fatigue because we practiced yesterday,” Cash said. “We’re in that summer grind that we talk about all the time.  We need to refresh, re-charge our batteries and get ready for the playoffs.”Truesdale was lifted from Friday’s game early as he is expected to get the ball to start tonight’s game against a Ninety Six squad that Cash was trying to get as much information on as he could from several different coaches who have seen or, whose team had faced the Wildcats.On Monday, Cash contacted the head coach at Ninety Six who told the NC boss that the field at the Upstate school drains well and playing tonight’s game, es schduled, should not pose much of a problem.Cash said his team is ready.“Right now,” Cash said, “we’re planning on starting Dalton on the hill. That gives us our best defense on the field and Dalton does a good job of throwing strikes. We’ll also have Chase (Stephens), who is our number one starter, ready to go. At the same time, we have Cam (Holley), Tyler (Faulkenberry) and Kevin Smith ready. They all throw strikes.”

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