Faith Christian, Charlotte Northside Christian square off in 2-A NCISAA title

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Faith Christian's Landon Silveri, left, attempts to avoid the tag at the plate by Northside Christian Academy's Cory Delair Friday, March 10 at Faith Christian.


Sports Writer

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A gesture has stuck with Brian Larsen since last year.

The Charlotte Northside Christian Academy coach guided his team to a NCISAA 2-A title in 2016, beating Faith Christian School in the semifinals along the way. After the Knights’ 10-3, extra-inning victory against the Patriots to earn a spot in the title series last season, and after the handshake line dispersed, Larsen and his players worked their way off the field to celebrate with loved ones.

After a couple minutes, he got a tap on the shoulder. It was Faith Christian baseball coach Greg Clifton, making sure to congratulate his counterpart again. Larsen hasn’t forgotten it. 

“He came over through the crowd and congratulated me again and our parents as well,” Larsen said. “And that is tough because I have been there, when your heart is ripped out of your chest. It doesn’t get any more classier than that. And it has always been something I have always remembered.”

The Patriots (23-1), whose only loss on the season was to Northside Christian, get another shot at the Knights. The teams square off in this year’s 2-A title installment, with Game 1 starting at 4 p.m. Friday at Westchester Country Day in High Point. 

Faith Christian hosted Northside Christian on March 10 during the Patriots Invitational. The Knights pulled out a 5-4 victory by scoring all of their runs in the top of the fourth. 

Larsen expects a hard-fought series much like that early season game.

“I want to say the best two teams are playing for the state title,” Larsen said. “Sometimes that doesn’t happen. . . I think you have the best two teams in 2-A playing against each other, and that right there is a challenge.”

Northside Christian’s offense is difficult to contending with. The team hit .354 as a whole and is efficient. The Knights plated 181 runs off 180 hits this season.

Faith Christian coach Greg Clifton feels like his squad, which hit .316, can slug with anyone. The Patriots struggled at the plate against Westchester Country Day on Tuesday, and Clifton said the team has to focus on its adjustments. 

“I feel like we are solid, too,” Clifton said. “I think it is two evenly matched teams.

“Obviously they won it last year, and they’ve got momentum on their side. . . I think the team that does the little things right is the team that is going to come out their happy on Saturday.”

A potential problem Faith Christian faces is not having its ace. Landen Roupp, a 9-1 starter who signed with UNCW, went over the 4-day-rest pitch count in a 2-1 win against Weschester County Day on Tuesday.

Larsen, however, said all his starters are free to pitch. The Northside Christian coach declined to name his starters for the series. Alec Huffstickler is 9-1 with a 1.60 ERA, and he pitched against Faith Christian. Junior Conor McGee is 5-1 with a 1.55 ERA, and the Knights have two more pitchers with at least two wins. 

Jacob Prigden and Alex Crosby will be probable starters for Faith Christian. Both are 5-0. Clifton said the rest of the bullpen is ready to shoulder the responsibility. The coach found out that Roupp sent positive messages in a group text to his fellow pitchers since his last start.

“Landon wanted to pitch Tuesday, and he wanted that game for these guys to give us this chance,” Clifton said. “Those other guys have done the job all year. Yeah, it’s going to be tough going without him, but we are a pretty good team.”

Starting catcher Braxton Varnell feels confident in the pitching staff. And he’s expecting the squad, especially the seniors who began playing for Clifton six years ago, to fight hard for the school’s first 2-A title. 

“This is indescribable,” said Varnell, who’s attended the school since fourth grade. “To play for a state title is indescribable. 

“When Coach Clifton came here the first year we were able to play. And we’ve been working for it since then and dreaming of it the whole time.”