When Tyler King took the mound early this season against Greenville Rose, he was jittery.
The Rampants were one of the better teams in the region with a lineup filled with talent.
King wasn’t sure how he’d stack up.
Instead of crumbling, King began his theme for the season. He rose to the occasion, allowing just one run through five innings of work.
“I shocked them,” he said. “They didn’t shock me.”
It turns out that the 2014 All-Area Pitcher of the Year was better than he actually thought he could have been. The rest of the Big East Conference soon found out the same.
“We had a chance to beat anybody on the day he took the ball,” Nash Central coach Tony Guzzo said. “I think you could just sense it. The kids felt like it didn’t matter who we were playing.”
King, a two-time conference pitcher of the year, helped the Bulldogs stop a 12-game losing streak to Wilson Hunt.
Behind his starts, Nash Central swept rival Rocky Mount High and King handed Northern Nash its first conference loss, which also snapped the Knights’ seven-game winning streak.
He did it all with the thinnest of margins.
The Bulldogs weren’t a superb hitting team this year, so usually when King was on the mound, it was up to him to lead the way.
“He’s a guy that wants to take a challenge and a guy that is very competitive,” said Guzzo, whose team lost just one conference game with King on the mound and won just one without him. “When he gets out there in the middle of it, he doesn’t want to give the ball up. He doesn’t want me to come get the ball.”
King possessed a makeup that the Bulldogs needed from their three-year ace. He could throw all three of his pitches – fastball, curveball and change-up – for strikes, routinely keeping hitters off balance. He wasn’t cocky, but confident with a bit of a swagger on the mound.
That demeanor fades when he steps off the field, but on the field, it was exactly the type of focus that helped Nash Central come within a game of the Big East Conference championship game despite a losing skid to end the season.
“That’s a field persona that we needed him to have to kind of ignite our team to know that it doesn’t matter who we were playing that night, we could win,” Guzzo said.
King finished the year with a 1.87 ERA and 97 strikeouts. He won six games – dour in the Big East – despite a slow start to the season that left Guzzo wondering exactly how good King would be.
Because of the cold weather and the staggered non-conference schedule, Guzzo didn’t let King loose until the middle of the season. Guzzo kept a close watch on King’s pitch count, something the coach also did during King’s junior season.
He gradually increased the total with every passing start with the hope that King would be able to dominant in conference play. When the big games came around, King knew he’d be called on to pitch.
“I always want the ball,” King said. “If I could and my body allowed me, I’d take it every game. I can take control when I’m out there, and I know if anything goes wrong, it’s on me. I like having that pressure on me.”
King will pitch next year at Pitt Community College, partly because his body wouldn’t allow anything else. Last fall, he broke a vertebrae in the lower part of his spine due to pitching. He said that many colleges backed off after the injury, but he knows he has a second chance next season.
“It’s the best fit for me to go there and have a another chance,” King said.
Not many people would have bet against King this season once he hit his peak. But it was his value to Nash Central that made him stand out.
The Bulldogs would go from having a chance with him on the mound to a chance at a 10-run, mercy-rule loss without him.
“Every time he took the ball, we knew we could beat the best,” Guzzo said.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org