The season is still young and eventually other Nash Central players will emerge. But until that happens, senior Brittani Strickland is going to have to produce like a No. 3 hitter.
Strickland had no trouble in that role Thursday night against SouthWest Edgecombe.
As the senior with the most varsity experience and just one of three returning starters, Strickland’s bat is perhaps the key to Nash Central’s season.
Strickland hit a pair of triples, drove in three runs and scored a pair in the Bulldogs’ 5-2 nonconference victory against the Cougars.
It’s a role Strickland is prepared for as a lineup of newcomers and former backups step into the forefront.
“I do actually,” Strickland said when asked if she enjoyed her role as a leader. “It’s not pressure. I’m kind of used to it because it was the same in middle school. There’s really no pressure.”
Her two-run triple in the bottom of the third broke open a scoreless game, and after SouthWest Edgecombe cut the deficit to just 3-2 in the sixth inning, Strickland’s sweet swing gave Nash Central some wiggle room.
She pounced on a Kaitlyn Paige offering and missed a home run by just a few feet.
“That second one would have been out just about anywhere except for here,” Nash Central coach Gary Smith said.
Nash Central (2-4) avenged a 6-3 loss at SouthWest Edgecombe a week ago.
Junior Sarah Keel pitched seven innings, and although she did not strike out a Cougars batter, she pitched around four errors and eight hits allowed. The defense made strong plays at times despite a few drops.
“We’re really improving on defense, and our offense is getting there,” said Keel, who is splitting time in the pitching circle with Kelsee Whitley.
Paige and Lexie Rhodes led the Cougars (2-3) with two hits each.
SouthWest Edgecombe is in a rebuilding phase just four years after a pair of consistent state playoffs runs.
“Even though we lost, that was Kaitlyn’s best game this year,” Cougars coach Shelton Langley said. “She took a year off last year, and she is getting better and better.”
Conference play begins Tuesday for Nash Central, and contributions like Strickland’s and Taylor Mills (three singles) will be necessary for the Bulldogs.
“Everbody thinks we are an underdog, and they’ll underestimate us,” Strickland said. “As long as we improve, we’ll be pretty good.”
Nash Central 5
SouthWest Edgecombe 2
SWE 000 101 0 – 2 8 0 NC 003 002 x – 5 6 4 WP: Sarah Keel (7IP, 2R, 2ER, 8 H, 2BB). LP: Kaitlyn Paige (6IP, 5R, 5ER, 6H, 7K). 3B: Brittani Strickland 2 (NC).
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or email@example.com