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Knights tough out a 15-6 loss to Cheraw

Posted: March 19, 2018 3:17 p.m.
Updated: March 20, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

NORTH CENTRAL’S AUSTIN BOWERS heads to first base in Friday’s loss to Cheraw in Boonetown. The sophomore shortstop and leadoff batter had a single and drew a pair of walks against Braves’ pitching on the evening.

Trailing visiting Cheraw by 11 runs with two gone in the bottom of the sixth, it would have been pretty easy for North Central to have packed up the bats and looked ahead to a better day. That would have been the quick way out.

Instead, the Knights battled, pushing across two more runs to extend Friday’s game in Boonetown to its seven-inning distance.

In the end, the state’s fifth-ranked AA squad, left town with a 15-6 Region 4-AA victory. In the other dugout, first-year NC head coach Brandon Faulkenberry said not giving up is one of the many qualities of his squad.

“That has a lot to do with our seniors,” Faulkenberry said of what his upperclassmen bring to the table. “You think about Chance Mangum, Cam Holley, Josh Morris and Wesley Roberts; it all starts with the seniors. They’re leading this team from top to bottom. 

“They’re doing a great job with my seventh and eighth graders, right now, and making sure that everybody stays in the game. They’ll come in the dugout during our jayvee games and make sure that we’re always fighting to the end. That’s something I’m really proud of about this team.”

The loss dropped the Knights to 2-3 overall and 1-2 in conference play. The Braves improved to 4-1 ---with that lone setback coming at the hands of St. James, which is ranked in the top 10 in 4A --- and 2-0 in 4-AA action.

In addition to not quitting when the 10-run rule was looming in the sixth, the Knights also strung together 11 hits off a trio of Cheraw pitchers. On defense, after making seven errors in a 17-7 win over Lee Central on Wednesday, NC had four on this night with three of those coming during the visitors’ eight-run second inning outburst.

The second-inning rally, in which the guests received a three-run double to left off the bat of Tallon Campbell and a two-run single from Cooper Thurman, who had five of his team’s 15 hits, put this contest firmly in the Braves’ favor.

Holley, who is playing through a labrum injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder, got the starting nod after having asked his head coach for the ball for this game. The right-hander, who righted his ship after a bumpy second, worked into the fifth frame.

“Cam came to me and said that he wanted the baseball. He said that he wants to face good teams,” Brandon Faulkenberry said. “He struggled leaving the ball up tonight and they were pounding it. 

“Cheraw’s a good hitting team; Cheraw’s a good team, overall. They’re going to be tough later in the season.”

The hosts got to CHS starter Tegan Griggs for a pair in their half of the second which started when Wesley Roberts went the other way for a leadoff single to right field. Dalton Truesdale followed by drawing a walk before Josh Morris lined a single into center to load the bases with no outs.

Cody Faulkenberry plated Roberts with a fielders’ choice which forced Morris at second base. Griggs got another ground ball from Christian Bowers which allowed Truesdale to come home while forcing Faulkenberry at second for the second out in an 8-2 game. The Braves’ righty was then taken down the left field line for a single by Austin Bowers only to avoid further damage by getting a third force out at second base to end the frame.

Cheraw tacked on a ninth run in the top of the third as Thurman legged out a leadoff triple to right center and scored on Campbell’s one-out sacrifice fly to center to hike the lead to 9-2.

Again, the Knights were not ready to go away.

Holley led off the bottom of the third with a single through the box which came before Mangum doubled to the gap in left center to put both runners on scoring position with no outs. Roberts then hit a grounder to first base which brought Holley home while Roberts was out on a flip from Tyson Hall to Griggs, who was covering first base. Mangum tried to take third on the play but was thrown out by Griggs on a bang-bang play for the twin killing. As luck would have it, Truesdale followed with a two-out double to right center in an inning which closed with a ground out.

Through the first three frames, the Knights collected seven hits with many of those coming by either going up the middle or, taking pitches the other way. That, Brandon Faulkenberry said, was not just a coincidence.

“We’ve been working on sitting back on the baseball,” he said. “A lot of our guys have been coming in (to the batters box) and their front foot is getting out there. We’re trying to teach, sitting back and driving the ball to the backside; everybody has a ‘pull’ swing, right now.

“Tonight was one of the best nights that we’ve had hitting the ball.”

Holley was lifted from the mound in favor of Truesdale three batters into a top of the fifth in which the Braves scored an unearned run when Griggs scored to make it 10-3 thanks to Jacob Gainey drawing a two-out, bases loaded walk.

An inning later, Cheraw scored five runs on six hits with Thurman and Hall leading the charge with a pair of two-run singles as the Braves took a 15-3 cushion into the home half of the sixth.

Rather than just play out the string, the Knights went back to work.

A Truesdale single to center off CHS reliever Wade Lofton kick-started things. He took second on an errant pickoff throw to first base. With one gone, Cody Faulkenberry laced a single to left to put runners on the corners for Christian Bowers, whose ground ball to shortstop forced Faulkenberry at second for the first out while Truesdale trotted home on the play to make it 15-4.

Austin Bowers kept the inning and game alive, working the Braves’ third pitcher of the night, McKenny Goodale, for a six-pitch walk. A wild pitch advanced Christian Bowers and Austin Bowers into scoring position for Tyler Faulkenberry, who drove a two-run single into right field which glanced off the glove of CHS second baseman Clayton Byrd who was unable to get to the ball. The single drove both Bowers’ home with runs five and six, assuring that this game would go the distance.

Goodale then gave up a single to Holley, his third hit of the game, which put runners on the corners only for both to be left hanging there as Goodale got an inning-ending strikeout.

Holley led the Knights’ 11-hit offensive attack with three singles. Truesdale added a single and a double while Tyler Faulkenberry and Christian Bowers each drove in a pair of runners.

Defensively, Mangum made a diving stab of a Chandler Hunter liner from his first base post in the third while Cody Faulkenberry took an extra base hit from Hall to lead off the second as the NC leftfielder found the fence and made the grab  in front of it in the fourth. 

Another bright spot was the play of Morris behind the plate. The senior catcher turned an ankle early in the game and was noticeably limping thereafter in a contest in which he did not allow a pitch to get past him.

“Josh hurt his ankle early and I asked him if he wanted to come out,” Brandon Faulkenberry said. “He told me, ‘No, coach, I want to stay until the end.’”

The four NC miscues in the field included one bobble in the outfield on a base hit which allowed a runner to take an extra base. Another came when Mangum made a stop at first base only for the ball to get stuck in the webbing of his mitt.

It was a nice change of pace for his team’s defense, Brandon Faulkenberry said, before adding that his pitchers, who dealt six walks, need to be more consistent.

 “We’ve been making a lot of errors this year. That helped our pitching tonight where we did keep the ball down in the zone,” he said. “There may have been a couple calls that we could have gotten but, at the same time, we have to keep pounding the zone. That’s something that we’ve been working on all season and an area that we have decreased, lately, in our being able to throw strikes.”

The Knights were scheduled to kick off a three-game week with a conference game on Monday at Buford. Wednesday and Friday nights, NC hosts Chesterfield and Central, respectively, at 6:30 p.m. both nights.

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