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Bass, Nash Central clicking entering conference play

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Nash Central's Payton Bass, left, receives congratualtions from Tanner Rhodes, right, after hitting an inside-the-park home run Friday during the second of two games against SouthWest Edgecombe at Nash Central High School.

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By Ethan Joyce
Sports Writer

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Payton Bass will tell you that before this season, he stunk as a leadoff hitter.

Always a rangy outfielder and fleet baserunner for Nash Central, the junior had chances at the top of the order last season. But he earned a demotion to the ninth spot quickly.

That’s changed for him this year. In need of a No. 1 hitter, coach Willie Langley tapped on Bass again. This time, it clicked.

Bass’ bat has launched the Nash Central attack, and it was on full display in a doubleheader against SouthWest Edgecombe on Friday. He went 2-for-2 with a steal and a walk during the 1-0 victory in the first game. And he was 3-for-4 in the second, a 13-7 win. Bass hit two inside-the-park home runs and a double that were all drilled to right-center field. 

“Since we have put him in the leadoff spot, he has absolutely ripped the cover off the ball,” Nash Central coach Willie Langley said. “. . . And I think he is just more comfortable now.”

Bass laughed after the game when talking about the two home runs, and he thought those were the first of his career in that variety. He said he’s happy that he’s getting the ball in play so often for the Bulldogs. 

Langley mentioned that Bass focused this offseason on improving his strength, specifically in his lower body. That strength improved his bat speed. Bass contends he really had to grow as a hitter, and that came with a lot of practice reps.

“It was really in the cage, working in there,” Bass said. “My sophomore year, I just couldn’t find it. My swing just didn’t feel good.

“It has really been working in the cage and finding that mindset.”

After those two games, Bass is hitting .500 in Nash Central’s eight contests.  Becoming more comfortable in the batter’s box made Bass more aggressive as a hitter. That mentality is something all the Bulldogs are trying to replicate.

Langley mentioned it works to their disadvantage sometimes. For example, in the first inning of the first game against Cougars, Bass knocked a single on the first pitch he saw. The second batter, Chase Minshew, bunted Bass over to second for the first out. Two more pitches resulted in two more outs and a runner left stranded. 

SWE starter Cody Fuller threw only four pitches there. That, Langley said, was a product of his guys trying to hit too much for power. It is when the team works on making contact that it reaches a different level.

“Last year, we were terrible for taking a fastball,” Langley said. “And it’s high school. If they start you out with a fastball, you are going to see a breaking pitch.

“We would take the fastball and swing at the breaking pitch. About halfway through last year, we got them through that mindset. If they lay it up there for you, you’ve got to hit it.”

Langley saw more of what he liked in the second game. The Bulldogs focused on good hacks and popped off for nine runs in the first inning and had 13 at-bats. 

“. . . The guys, their approach changed,” Langley said. “They quit trying to play like they did in the first, where they were trying to jack balls out of the park. We are not a home-run hitting team.”

When Nash Central isn’t producing runs, the Bulldogs have the horses in the pitching staff to pull them through. Between Taylor and fellow senior Zach Patterson, Langley feels like he has two co-aces. He said the two joke about who the real top pitcher on staff is.

Taylor dominated, notching 11 strikeouts while walking three batters while working the outside corner against right-handed hitters in the first game. He threw a no-hitter with the help of two Bulldogs field errors in five innings. 

Friday’s doubleheader was a product of a cold-weather postponement. Langley felt that extra practice time allowed the team to readjust its mindset. He reaffirmed that message after the doubleheader ended. With Big East conference play opening for the Bulldogs at Rocky Mount High on Tuesday, he wants that second-game focus to remain.

“I told them, I think if that team shows up, we can win conference,” Langley said. “Because if that team shows up with our pitching, we are going to be hard to beat.”

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