There is little question that North Central has an offense which can keep the Knights in baseball games. The challenge for second-year head coach Brandon Faulkenberry’s squad is getting the other parts of their game up to snuff.
Two nights after a 10-8 loss to Camden Military Academy, the Knights returned to Region 4-AA play and opening with a four-run opening salvo to take a 4-0 lead over visiting Central after one inning. Things went downhill quickly for the hosts, who were outscored 19-1 over the final six frames as the Eagles left Boonetown with a 19-5 victory in a three-hour marathon.
NC (0-3, 0-2 in 4-AA) collected nine hits in the loss with Austin Bowers and Christian Bowers having three each. The pair’s offensive exploits were not enough to overcome the shortcomings of an inexperienced pitching staff and a struggling defense as the Eagles took advantage of nine walks and a dozen Knight errors to turn this into a runaway.
Without having a true number one pitcher, Faulkenberry has been forced to try and piece things together on the mound. Against Central, the Knights used four pitchers, starting with junior right-hander Austin Bowers. Two nights earlier, they went through four to get through a seven-inning contest with the Spartans.
“We have to whole-staff games,” Faulkenberry said of his mound corps. “Monday night, we had to throw a couple guys. Tonight, we had to throw a couple guys and Friday, we’re going to have to throw a couple guys (against Chesterfield.)
“It’s just what we have to do. Our guys have to learn to throw strikes and then, we have to learn to make the routine plays in the field. That’s what we didn’t do tonight. If we would have done that, it’s a totally different outcome.”
Both the walks and errors were anomalies for the Knights who, their head coach said, have averaged issuing three to four walks a game while making about three miscues in the field this young season.
After Bowers pitched around an error in the first inning to get out of the opening frame unscathed, he was given four runs with which to work as it was the shaky start from CHS righty Trent Newberth and a pair of errors which allowed NC to jump to the quick lead.
Newberth walked leadoff man Tyler Faulkenberry before plunking Austin Bowers with a pitch to put the first two batters he faced on base. Cody Faulkenberry’s grounder to third forced Tyler Faulkenberry there. Newberth then tried to pick off Cody Faulkenberry at first base only for his throw to go wide of its target as Bowers scored from second while Cody Faulkenberry landed on third on the two-base error.
Newberth’s struggles continued as he hit Jordan Hayes before Brandon Bowers’ grounder to shortstop was booted to load the bases. A passed ball allowed Cody Faulkenberry to come in with the second run while advancing runners into scoring position, still, with one out.
Carson Coates then hit a grounder to Jamie Parks at first base whose throw to the plate was late as Hayes slid safely home with the third run. Markell Portee, running for Bowers, came in with the fourth run on a Christian Bowers single to left, the only hit of the inning for the hosts who left runners on first and second after Newberth got out of the mess by retiring the final two batters of the inning.
“Central helped us out a little bit; they threw some walks in there and made a couple errors. Our guys did put the bat on the ball, though,” Brandon Faulkenberry said of his team’s first inning rally.
Central cut the deficit in half by scoring a pair of unearned runs in the second in which a two-out error kept the inning going with Curt Chapman’s single to left driving in the tying run. An inning later, an error on a Newberth ground ball helped lead to a two-run third as the Eagles strung together three straight singles with those off the bats of Will Atkinson and Jemiah Smith driving in runs three and four as the visitors evened things at 4-4 heading into the bottom of the third.
With the game on level ground and Newberth battling control issues while throwing 60 pitches in the first two innings, Central went to Buddy Faile, who came on to start the third inning. The righty, who started the game at shortstop, righted the Eagles’ ship and worked two inning of scoreless ball while dancing his way around a fourth inning in which the Knights received singles from Justin Catoe, Austin Bowers and Cody Faulkenberry but were unable to turn those hits into runs.
Central tacked on four runs in the fourth while chasing Austin Bowers from the mound in the process in favor of Dalton Truesdale, who was able to stop the bleeding.
The big blow in the fourth was supplied by Parks who sent a fastball beyond the fence in left center with a runner aboard to make it 8-4. The Eagles added four more runs in the fifth, using two hits, two NC errors and three walks to extend their lead to 12-4.
Sophomore Carson Coates, who came on in relief of Dalton Truesdale in the fifth, worked a scoreless sixth with Blake Truesdale, the fourth NC pitcher of the evening. Coates got Atkinson to ground into a bases-filled force out as his shot to third base was snagged by Jordan Hayes, who stepped on the bag to end the threat.
NC scored its fifth run in the sixth off Atkinson. Austin Bowers singled to shallow left with one gone, moved to second when Hayes drew a two-out walk and scored on a Brandon Bowers single to center which cut the lead to 12-5.
The Eagles had a rally left in them and sent 12 batters to the plate while using three hits, a pair of errors and a two-run double from Parks to hike their lead to 19-5.
The four Knight hurlers combined to throw 197 pitches in the game in innings extended by walks, errors and 14 Central hits.
“We came out here and walked nine batters, made about 12 or 13 errors … obviously, you’re not ever going to win a ballgame like that,” Faulkenberry said before being asked how do you improve on those ugly numbers.
“We’re going to get back to work at it,” he said. “We have 17 guys and I have a lot who have never played (on the varsity level) before. I don’t have a lot of infielders, they just have to get to work and decide if they’re going to make the routine plays, or not.”
On the positive side, the offense has been steady. Now that Christian Bowers is back in the swing of things, it helps solidify the NC batting order.
“It’s good to see him back. He’s a quiet leader for us,” Faulkenberry said of Bowers. “He works hard and he works hard in the offseason. I haven’t had him for a couple games due to his wrestling and then, getting hurt in wrestling and after that, he got his wisdom teeth cut out. I’m glad to have him back.”
Faulkenberry said his team would be fine as they prepare for tonight’s game home game with Chesterfield. He said the Knights will try and tie some loose ends together in practice, put the team into game-like situation on Thursday and come back ready to go against the Golden Rams.
“We’re going to be fine. We have to put the bat on the ball like we did tonight. We made things happen at the plate,” he said.
“We came out ready to play tonight. We’re just not mature enough, right now. We’re going to get there. I have some guys who want to take leadership roles, but they’re not there, yet. Once we get that and can play all seven innings, we’ll be fine.”