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Knights close tourney stay with an 11-9 victory over Crestwood

Posted: April 9, 2018 2:22 p.m.
Updated: April 10, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

NORTH CENTRAL’S TANNER STEPHENS drives a first-inning single for an RBI in the Knights’ 11-9 win over Crestwood last Thursday morning.

It was an early Thursday morning game played before a handful of fans braving the chill against a Crestwood team which North Central had already beaten earlier this season, 14-8.

This was a contest which had all the earmarks of a “trap” game for Brandon Faulkenberry’s squad and, he admitted as much before the first pitch was thrown.

Crestwood brought the first-year NC head coach’s worst fears to fruition, tying the seventh place game of the Kershaw-Richland wooden bat tournament at nine with a three-run top of the sixth. The host Knights, however, answered with two runs in the bottom half of the inning and held on for an 11-9 victory while giving freshman pitcher Carson Coates his first varsity victory thanks to two innings of relief work.

The win gave NC (4-11) at 2-2 record for its four-game stay at American Legion Park in Camden in which the 2A Knights defeated AAA rival Camden and 4A Crestwood while dropping decisions to a pair of 4A foes in Lugoff-Elgin and South Aiken.

It was hardly a bad four days for Faulkenberry who had to bring up several junior varsity players to fill out his roster while having a starting infielder/pitcher miss Thursday’s contest. Included in that group of reinforcements from the jayvee squad were Coates and fellow freshman Justin Catoe.

“We brought up some young guys who contributed for us,” Faulkenberry said. “Justin Catoe had two hits today and Carson Coates came in and ended up getting the win. He came in and threw strikes, which was very good to see.”

After Crestwood rallied from a 9-6 deficit to knot things at nine with a three-run sixth, NC was up to the challenge and stunted the CHS momentum.

With one gone in the home half of the sixth, Catoe reached on an infield single and took second on a throwing error on the play. Following an Austin Bowers two-out walk, a Cam Holley hit-and-run single drove in Catoe with the 10th run as the hosts had runners on the corners with Chance Mangum at the plate. Holley then jogged toward second base, hoping to get in a rundown. CHS took the bait and went after Holley. Seeing that, Bowers broke for home and came in safely with the 11th run on the designed play.

“We did the ‘leave early’ play, had a hit and run and we executed them both. That’s why we ended up winning today,” Faulkenberry said.

Coates, who did not allow an earned run in a top of the sixth in which NC committed three errors behind him, worked a perfect seventh to close a game which started as a one-sided affair.

The Knights got to CHS starter A.J. Herrera for five runs in a bottom of the first inning in which they sent 11 batters to the plate while staking their own starting pitcher, Holley, to a quick five-run lead.

Austin Bowers, who had the best stat line of the tournament on Thursday in being hit three times, while drawing two walks, stealing five bases and driving in a run in five plate appearances, led off the home half of the first by drawing a walk, stealing second and taking third on a throwing error from the catcher. Holley then walked before Bowers came in with the morning’s first run on a passed ball which moved Holley to second.

A one-out Josh Morris single put runners on the corners for Wesley Roberts, who went the opposite way with an RBI double to right. Run-scoring singles off the bats of Tanner Stephens and Cody Faulkenberry followed as the Knights went on top, 4-0. Cody Faulkenberry upped the ante to five runs when he scored as Bowers was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and two outs.

Crestwood got to Holley for a run in the second, which NC answered with one of its own in the bottom portion of the frame. Morris, who swung a white-hot bat en route to earning all-tourney honors, sent a one-out single to left before being replaced by courtesy runner Christian Bowers who made it 6-1 when he scored from third on a Stephens single to left.

Brandon Faulkenberry admitted that the early start to the game, his team’s jumping to an early lead and having already defeated Crestwood this season all played a role in the Knights’ having a letdown after seemingly having taken control of this one.

“Coming into the fourth day,” he said, “we figured that we might be a little sluggish. We played a couple pretty good ballgames this week and then, we came in here a little overconfident because we knew who we were playing. At the same time, we lost focus. 

“We had a couple guys show up late which, because we were playing a morning game, I figured would happen. Other than that, we put the ball in play.”

Crestwood wasted no time in putting things at level ground by using a pair of hits and three NC errors in a five-run third to tie the game at six.

Again, NC had the answer.

Catoe opened the third by lining a single through the box and then, taking second on a wild pitch. With one gone, Austin Bowers was hit by a pitch before Holley’s walk jammed the bags. Mangum brought Catoe home with a fielders’ choice before Austin Bowers made it 8-6 when he came in on a wild pitch.

That two-run cushion melted thanks to Crestwood taking advantage of three of NC’s seven errors on the day to push three runs across the plate to knot the game at nine.

After the Knights scored a pair in the sixth, Coates got a pair of ground ball outs and a fly ball to Catoe in right to pick up the win.

North Central collected 11 hits in the victory with Morris, Roberts, Stephens and Catoe each having a pair with Stephens knocking in two runs. Those went along with the strange stat line hung up by Austin Bowers from his leadoff slot in the batting order.

Brandon Faulkenberry said that he hopes getting two wins on the week will propel his team, which has work to do in Region 4-AA play, into a postseason berth.

“This is huge for us,” he said of his team’s four-day run in Camden and using wood bats. “We actually caught some on the barrel with the wooden bats so, maybe this will help us out. 

“After spring break the last couple years, we went downhill after this tournament. Maybe, this year, we’ll take a step up.”

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