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Knights get long-awaited win over rival Andrew Jackson, 3-2

Posted: March 9, 2017 10:47 a.m.
Updated: March 10, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

CHASE STEPHENS FIRES a pitch to the plate in North Central’s 3-2 win over Andrew Jackson Tuesday night in Boonetown.

Sometimes, that monkey on your back seems as if it curls its tail around your neck in trying to strangle the life out of you.

Moments after his team’s 3-2 victory over archrival Andrew Jackson in Tuesday’s regular season opener, North Central baseball coach Robbie Cash was finally able to exhale. And the smile across his face spoke volumes as to how big a win this was for his Knights who had their share of problems in last week’s Mid-Carolina Credit Union Baseball Bash.

It had been longer than Cash and any of his current players, former Knights and their fans cared to remember as to when the last time they tasted victory against the neighboring Volunteers. In fact, Cash said, he did not want to know how long it had been between getting the upper hand on AJ.

“It’s a big win for us … it knocked the monkey off our back,” Cash said after talking to his team in right field. “It’s been a couple years since we’ve beaten them. It’s just good to get a win.”

NC’s Chase Stephens walked the tightrope which is the new pitch count rule. For a seven-inning contest, a pitcher is only allowed to throw 125 pitches. The right-hander straddled that line as he entered the top of the seventh having thrown 100 pitches. Stephens would need only six tosses in the seventh to close out a game which ended with a pretty double play ball which went from second baseman Chris Sims, who flipped to shortstop Cam Holley at second, whose throw to first base was in time with Chance Mangum digging the ball out of the dirt to complete the twin-killing.

Cash said he was proud of his entire team but was equally excited about his newly formed Keystone combo in the middle of the infield.

“I can’t say enough about our new double play combo that we put out there tonight with Chris Sims and Cam Holley,” said a beaming Cash. “We worked on that double play combo for about 20 minutes yesterday in practice. I’m glad it worked out for us tonight.”

That was hardly the only thing which clicked for the hosts, who will host Lewisville in a 1 p.m. Saturday non-region matinee.

The Knights entered the bottom of the fourth looking up at a 2-1 deficit against AJ starter Heath Gandy. The lefty gave up back-to-back singles off the bats of Stephens and Kevin Smith to open the fourth. That was enough for Gandy as the guests went to righty Will Hudson to face Chance Mangum, who bats in the six hole.

Mangum was given the opportunity to swing away for a base hit but after trailing in the count, 0-1, he was called on to lay down a bunt which was fielded by Hudson whose throw to first got Mangum. As Stephens reached third base, however, Cash told him to round it aggressively in an attempt to draw a throw from first. The throw to third was made and flew its target as Stephens scored easily. Smith was hot on his heels and would beat the throw home as the Knights scored two runs off a sacrifice bunt.

Cash said with Stephens on second, he could afford to be aggressive in his play-calling in the third base coach’s box.

“We tried to draw a throw there,” he said. “Chase runs as well as anybody on our team, along with Cam Holley. He’s a great base runner and as a pitcher/catcher, he’s real smart. I told him to get a wide lead, draw the throw and try to score a run. 

“I thought we had to be aggressive there because we were heading to the bottom of the order and we didn’t have anything happening down there tonight.”

AJ opened the scoring in getting to Stephens for a pair in the third inning on John Cauthen’s two-run, two-out single to right. Both runs were of the unearned variety.

The Knights cut the lead in half in their portion of the third which opened with Sims drawing a leadoff walk and stealing second. Moving to third on Holley’s comebacker, Sims came home on a two-out wild pitch to make it a 2-1 game.

The Volunteers’ one-run advantage lasted an inning and a half before Cash made the decision to play small-ball. He said the fourth inning surge all started with Mangum, a starting offensive lineman for the NC football team and the largest player on the baseball squad, being able to lay down a perfectly placed bunt.

“That was a great job by Chance Mangum,” Cash said of his first baseman. “We decided that we would move them around a little bit and see if they could make a play. Chance did a good job of executing the bunt; we had two guys on base who could run and they threw it around a little bit and we executed.”

Stephens and Knights were not out of the woods, yet, by any stretch of the imagination.

In the top of the fifth, Gandy reached on an error and stole second. Cauthen then beat out an infield single, after a diving stab by third baseman Jeremiah Jenkins which saved a run. Gandy never stopped on the play as he rounded third and bolted for home. Mangum quickly fired a strike to catcher Dalton Truesdale, who applied the tag on Gandy for the out on a bang-bang play.

With Cauthen standing on second following a stolen base, Brett Percival hit a two-out chopper to Holley, who lost his footing on the infield grass but gathered himself while laying on his back and firing a strike to Mangum to get Percival by a step to end the inning and the threat.

With Stephens’ pitch count growing, NC pitching coach Brandon Faulkenberry called fastball after fastball as Stephens worked a 1-2-3 sixth which would lead to the Vols opening the seventh with their eighth batter leading off.

Cash said it was a high-risk, high-reward decision to all but scrap throwing anything off-speed to the Vols.

“The new pitch count rule is big,” he said. “We were trying to knock some legs off Chase by throwing fastballs. That’s a good team and when you throw them fastballs, they’re going to put the ball in play.”

Facing the bottom of the AJ order, NC did not want to see Gandy come to the plate with the tying run on base. He was on deck as Collin Killough grounded into the game-ending double play.

The Knights received five hits --- all singles --- from five different players. The Vols managed five hits off Stephens, who picked up the complete game victory in which the senior fanned six, hit three batters while not issuing a walk.

Cash lauded the effort of Truesdale for his work in catching Stephens, who is the latest in a long line of senior leaders who have stepped up for the Knights during Cash’s tenure.

“I’ve been grooming him like we did with Grayson (King) and Tyler (Bowers),” Cash said of Stephens. “This has been coming for awhile.

“After the sixth inning, I said to Chase, ‘Go get ‘em.’ He had about 25 pitches to work with. There wasn’t a choice with him; he was going after them.”

Baseball and BBQ: The North Central baseball program will hold a barbecue lunch on Saturday, March 11 at the baseball field as part of that day’s junior varsity and varsity doubleheader against visiting Lewisville. 

The jayvee game will begin at 11 a.m. with the varsity contest slated for a 1 p.m. start.

Barbecue plates are on sale for $6.25 which includes barbecue chicken, rice, green beans, cake and lemonade. The food service will begin at 11:30 a.m.

Tickets for the meal can be purchased from any NCHS baseball player, coach or at the school’s athletic department office located inside the school gym.


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