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Knights put best foot forward in tournament
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NORTH CENTRAL’S CARSON COATES delivers a pitch to the plate in the first inning of Wednesday’s game with Sumter at American Legion Park in Camden. - photo by Tom Didato/C-I

Brandon Faulkenberry could almost see the question coming. It was like counting the seams on a slow-moving knuckleball.

Standing outside his team’s dugout following Wednesday afternoon’s 8-3 loss to 5A Sumter in third round of the Kershaw-Richland Spring Break Tournament and less than 24 hours after his team’s 5-4 win over Camden, the second-year Knights’ head coach jumped on the question almost before it was finished.

When asked if he would like a re-boot to the season and start it all over again on Wednesday, Faulkenberry simply sported a wide grin while delivering his response.

“Absolutely,” he said. “This team right here, if they would come out and compete like they are right now, we would be fine.”

The Knights closed the Camden portion of the event with a 1-2 record after having dropped a 6-2 decision to in-county 5A rival Lugoff-Elgin on Monday in a game in which the Demons finally broke loose with a three-run top of the seventh.

They played in Thursday’s fifth-place game in Columbia in what will have been their final outing of the 2019 campaign.

In Wednesday’s matinee, NC trailed the home team Gamecocks, 1-0, with two outs and a runner on first base in the bottom of the fifth. After having been held to two hits in the first four innings against NC starter Carson Coates, Sumter collected five of its eight hits on the afternoon in scoring six times in the fifth.

Coates, a sophomore, worked 5.2 innings in the longest stint of his varsity career. The right-hander threw 96 pitches and allowed four earned runs and issued four walks while not striking out a batter in a solid and gutty effort.

“Carson came in and really threw the ball well. He really did a good job for us today,” Faulkenberry said. “He has struggled early on in games this season and has probably walked five or six batters in four innings his last couple outings.

“When he came in today, we told him that with wood bats, he needed to come out and pound the strike zone.”

Coates did as instructed against a Sumter offense which tried to drive pitches out of spacious American Legion Park on a warm, sun-splashed afternoon. What the Gamecocks ended up doing was hitting the ball up in the air with 12 fly ball outs to the outfield  --- one which resulted in a double play --- and two in the field with one of those going for a double play, while having a pair of ground ball outs.

“We got a lot of deep fly balls today that didn’t get out of here,” Faulkenberry said. “With this big field and with wooden bats, that’s all you need to have.”

On the Gamecock side, Seth Posey got the starting nod and the right-hander was staked to a quick 1-0 lead when his offense scored an unearned run in the first, using a pair of errors in an inning which ended with NC leftfielder Blake Truesdale gunning down Vic Brown, trying to score from third, with a strike to catcher Brandon Bowers who applied the tag on a sliding brown for the third out.

The Knights closed the second inning with another double play as with Drake Thames on second with two outs, Bryce Lyons hit a rocket to shortstop Austin Bowers, who made the grab and flipped the ball to Justin Catoe at second base to double-up Brown to keep the deficit at 1-0.

Posey made the one-run lead stand up as he worked six innings out shutout ball, allowing three hits while not allowing a Knight runner to advance beyond second base.

Posey exited the game after the Gamecocks rallied to score six times with two gone in the fifth. The big blow was a two-run single from S.B. Dukem to make it 3-0. Consecutive singles off the bats of Wylie Coker and Jacob Holladay made it 6-0 before an error and a Thames RBI double upped the ante to seven runs at 7-0.

“(Posey) was pretty good,” Brandon Faulkenberry said of the SHS starter. “He spotted the ball up  and had all three pitches working. He had our guys fooled.”

Sumter added a solo run in the sixth to pad its cushion to 8-0 heading into a final frame in which the Gamecocks sent Lyons to the mound to start the inning.

Lyons hit the first two batters he faced, pinch-hitters Zy Dunham and Jesse Wyant. That ended his night on the bump as Wylie Coker came in and promptly fanned consecutive batters. The Knights, thought, were not ready to go home. Christian Bowers lined a single to right to load the bases for Tyler Faulkenberry, who reached on an error which brought Dunham in with the first NC run.

The rally continued with Dalton Truesdale being hit by a pitch as Wyant came in with the second run. Austin Bowers made it 8-3 with an RBI single to center only for Coker to collect himself and get a ground ball out to end the contest.

Austin Bowers had two of the Knights’ five hits in the game while driving in a run.

On the mound, Coates’ effort came on the heels of Dalton Truesdale’s complete game win against Camden for the Knights who received 6.1 innings from Austin Bowers on Monday. It was three days of receiving quality starts from a pitching staff which seemed to find its groove in Camden.

“We’ve had three good outings from our pitchers,” Faulkenberry said. “We only used five pitchers in three games which is really good. That was good to see.”

NC was eliminated from playoff contention last week with Region 4-AA losses to Lewisville and Buford. That all but made this tournament the playoffs for the Knights who played loose and free.

 “I told our seniors to go out with a bang and go have some fun,” Faulkenberry said of the approach for the week.

“Our guys are still battling. This has been the best week that we’ve had all year. We’re finishing strong, even though we won’t be going to the playoffs, which is really good to see.”