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Big East baseball capsules: A look at Northern Nash, Southern Nash baseball

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Southern Nash's AJ Jones, back, tags Northern Nash's Aaron Gerlach for the final out in the 7th inning on Monday during the conference tournament game at Southern Nash High School.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Friday, March 2, 2018

Northern Nash 

The plan: The Knights (0-2), who played Friday night and lost to C.B. Aycock 12-1, finished last season a disappointing 5-17.

Problems weren’t hard to come by for Bard Collins’s 2017 team, but one thing the coach chose to focus on this offseason was a simple idea as old as baseball: getting on base.

“We hope to get the type of lineup we want, on-base percentage wise. We’re not even worried about hitting average,” Collins said. “Just get on somehow, that’s our goal. Get on, put it in play, make them make a play. Hopefully we’ll be successful with that.”

The hitting: Collins’s aforementioned hope for his team draws from a unique problem the team had last season -- giving their star slugger, Silas Gonzalez, enough reps. He drew 18 walks in 2017, many of which were intentional, solely because opposing pitchers would rather defer than face the Air Force commit.

“We’ll move him around,” Collins said. “Like I said, get on base and that way Silas and (Aaron) Gerlach will force their hand.”

Gerlach, only a junior this season, led the team with a .368 average and 25 hits as a sophomore.

The pitching: Collins envisions a big role for his sophomore pitcher Connor Davenport, who saw a small sample size on the mound last season as a freshman. Andrew Meade, Collins said, figures to be the ace of the staff, though the senior is dealing with some shoulder issues. He led the team in innings pitched (41) and appearances (11) last season amongst returners.

Ben Heacox, who missed last season with a torn ACL, will be back this year as an expected contributor as well.

“We’re trying to solidify a good pitching rotation,” Collins said. “We’re about five deep right now. A couple more if we need them.”

Next game: Monday, March 5 at 4:30 p.m. on the road against Corinth Holders.

Southern Nash

The plan: The Firebirds, who began their season this past Wednesday with a 5-1 victory over SouthWest Edgecombe, finished last season at 14-11 with a trip to the 3-A state tournament. It was their first winning season in six years, so fourth year head coach Todd Brewer doesn’t plan to fix what isn’t broken.

“Just build off the success we had last year. It was one of the best years we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “We obviously have goals, like winning a conference title, but right now we’re focused on the little things. Hopefully the results will speak to that and we can keep building this thing in the right direction.”

Southern Nash lost to Rocky Mount, 4-3, in the Big East championship game last season.

The hitting: Two players that Brewer feels good about it -- Jason Montague and AJ Jones -- both figure to stay awhile at Southern Nash. Montague, who hit .362 last season, is a junior in his third varsity season and Jones, the starting shortstop who hit .386 in his first varsity year last season, is only a sophomore.

“Hopefully they can be the foundation for the next few years,” Brewer said. “They play a lot of competitive ball outside of high school. They’re part of a really good mixture of upperclassmen and some younger guys.”

Colton Cruz, who hit .296 last season, will also be a part of the Firebirds’ lineup as a senior.

The pitching: Southern Nash will have to play out the 2018 season without perhaps its best arm from last year. Trevor Mills, who compiled a 2.41 ERA in 64 innings as a junior, transferred to Wilson Fike for his senior season.

“He hurts to lose. He was our No. 1 guy on the mound, but that means the guys we do have have to step up,” Brewer said. “It’s been a seamless exchange, hoping our guys can stay healthy and throw strikes.”

Cruz, Alex Noland and Leroy Edwards, all seniors, are the three pitchers Brewer expects to carry the load on the mound.

Next game: Southern Nash plays SouthWest Edgecombe again on March 6, this time at home at 7 p.m.

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