With two games in three days, Tony Guzzo had a choice to make: Use ace Tyler King on Tuesday or save him for Rocky Mount High on Thursday.
The Nash Central coach opted to save King and instead chose a platoon Tuesday against Southern Nash.
The platoon made Guzzo’s decision the correct one. Three Bulldogs pitchers combined to throw a two-hit shutout, defeating Southern Nash, 10-0, in six innings at Nash Central High School.
For the first time since he was in eighth grade, Khalil Macklin took the mound as a starting pitcher, and he earned the win for three hitless innings of work.
“It felt great, to be honest,” Macklin said. “To get my first win pitching in a long time, it felt kind of great.”
Nash Central (6-6, 3-2 Big East) picked up an important win in terms of playoffs positioning, but perhaps an even more important one in terms of finding depth. After King, the Bulldogs don’t know what to expect from the rest of their staff.
Tuesday’s effort against Southern Nash (1-12, 0-5) was reassuring, Guzzo said.
“We have really struggled in games where T.K. hasn’t started,” Guzzo said. “Khalil stepped up and threw strikes, which really gave us a chance to win the game. That was huge for us.”
There wasn’t much positive in the other dugout. The Firebirds didn’t record a hit until the sixth inning and made four fielding errors. Southern Nash has been outscored, 48-1, in its past three games, all mercy-rule losses that came on the heels of close games against Wilson Fike and Northern Nash.
“We haven’t seen a whole lot of good in a while,” Southern Nash coach Jeff Flowers said. “We had those close games against Fike and Northern, and I thought we really showed our potential. (Tuesday), we were as flat as can be from the beginning to the end.”
After Macklin, David Sutton pitched two hitless innings for Nash Central, then Zach Denton pitched around two hits in the sixth.
Macklin went 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored at the plate, while King, playing shortstop, went 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
Garrison Vick scored twice and had the game-ending double in the sixth, which scored Denton from second.
The night had a feel of middle school for Macklin, who was a dominant pitcher before high school.
“I was all right,” Macklin said. “I just threw fastballs, but it worked because everybody else was smaller than me. I’ve been the same size since seventh grade.”
With Nash Central’s gamble of saving King, Southern Nash felt it missed a chance to possibly earn its first league win of the season.
“It was a big break, and we weren’t able to man up and take advantage,” Flowers said.
The Firebirds haven’t drummed up much offense lately, but Flowers said his team still can win games if it throws strikes, plays clean defense and makes smart decisions.
The past three games have been nearly as bad as possible for Southern Nash, but it still has ability to be competitive, Flowers said.
“I’d like to see the Southern Nash that we saw play two weeks ago,” Flowers said. “I want that one to come back and stay ’til the end of May.”