Doing all their offensive damage in the first two frames, North Central washed the bad taste from last Thursday’s one-run loss to Fairfield Central from its mouth by thrashing visiting Keenan, 13-1, on a sun-splashed early Tuesday evening game in Boonetown.
The victory, in a contest stopped after four and a half frames, was big on several levels for the Knights. It gave Robbie Cash’s team a 3-2 record after the first go-through in Region 3-AA while Tyler Bowers was able to go the distance on the mound. And, the fact that the Knights scored a season-best 13 runs on eight hits --- allowing Cash to play his entire bench --- did not hurt, either.
Emerging from a post-game talk with his players, Cash was all smiles.
“This is one of those ‘feel good’ games,” Cash said. “Everybody feels good about themselves, right now. Everybody got to play and everybody got some good swings at the plate.
“We got Tyler Bowers a good five innings worth of work. I think he threw about 70 pitches, which is the most he’s thrown this year. We are trying to get his pitch count (in a game) up to around 80.”
Bowers received all the run support he would need thanks to the NC offense getting to Raider starter Zakiyyuddin Ameen for five runs in the bottom of the first to grab a quick 5-0 lead.
This game began on an ominous note as NC leadoff batter John Bowers was hit by an Ameen offering. Cam Holley followed with a single to center before Tyler Bowers drew a walk to load the bases with none gone. Broderick Gaither, moved from leadoff to clean-up in the order, went the opposite way and lined a three-run triple to the gap in left center to put this one away after just four batters.
“I’ve asked Broderick to drop to the four hole and lead this team,” Cash said of moving Gaither down in the order. “He’s a senior and he’s doing a great job there for us.”
Gaither made it 4-0 when he scored on Alex Tarlton’s single to left. Tarlton took second on an error on the play and later scored on Stephen Barrett’s fly ball which was dropped in left field as the Knights ended the inning scoring five times on three hits while taking advantage of a trio of Keenan errors.
“Getting those runs in the first inning was huge for us,” Cash said of making the Raiders play from behind. “Broderick’s three-run triple got us going. And, the bottom of our order did some good things today, especially bunting-wise.”
Ameen would drive in the lone Raider run of the night with a one-out single in the top of the second to drive in Grant Adams, who was hit by a pitch to lead the inning off.
Ameen’s single would be the final hit surrendered by Tyler Bowers who fanned 10 while facing only 19 batters in picking up the mound win.
The Knights turned this one into a blowout with an eight-run second in which they sent 13 batters to the plate.
John Bowers, again, kick-started things with a leadoff single to left which was then misplayed as he took second on the play. Holley followed with a single and both scored on Tyler Bowers’ single to center to make it 7-1.
After Gaither singled, both he and courtesy runner Marqueis Barnes moved into scoring position on Tarlton’s sacrifice bunt. Barrett followed by sending an opposite field single to right field which brought both Gaither and Barnes home. Michael Williamson, an eighth-grader, kept the inning alive with a single to left. Barrett and Williamson were both plated by Paul Blackwell’s two-run line drive single to left to make it an 11-1 lead.
Chase Stephens would then be hit by a pitch and he and Blackwell came home with runs 12 and 13 as Holley, an eighth-grader, rapped his third hit in two innings, this one an opposite field single to right which drove in the Knights’ final runs.
This game was in stark contrast to the first meeting between the two sides in Columbia in March when the Knights escaped with a hard-fought 4-1 victory. This game was more relaxing, Cash said.
“We seem to play better at home than we do when we go to the Columbia region,” he said. “This Keenan team is a good ballclub. They’re 2-2 in the region … it’s a good win for us.”
The hosts enjoyed a big offensive night with each starter scoring at least one run while eight contributed a hit. The meat of the order came up big for the Knights as Holley went 3-for-3 with a pair of RBI batting second. Tyler Bowers had a hit and two RBI while scoring twice in the third spot while Gaither went 2-for-3, drove in three and scored twice.
A quick look at the numbers tells the story about the NC attack as Holley leads the team with a .407 batting average followed by Gaither at .389 and Tyler Bowers who bats at a .387 clip. “I think this is the first time in my coaching career that I’ve had three guys batting over .380 this late in a season,” Cash said.
Bowers’ being able to go the entire five frames saved some arms for the Knights who, following Thursday’s non-league game with Lewisville, head to Pelion tonight to meet the conference-leading Panthers.
“It was great,” Cash said of not having to dip into his bullpen. “I wanted to get Tyler his work in. Now, I’ll have John Bowers, Paul (Blackwell) and Broderick (Gaither) on a full week’s rest for the rest of the week. We’ll have our guns loaded so, we’ll go down there (to Pelion) and see if we can’t steal one.”