Northern Nash juggled its lineup and broke in a brand new set of pants for the Big East Conference Tournament semifinals against Nash Central.
They did anything to try and break their hitting woes after 10 straight hitless innings before Thursday night.
Ultimately, all it takes is one well-timed hit.
That was what second baseman Nick Vester delivered.
Northern Nash didn’t have a hit through the first four innings before Vester’s RBI single broke a scoreless tie, and he later came around to score on a wild pitch as the Knights advanced to the championship game with a 2-0 victory despite recording only three hits.
“It was special. We needed it,” Vester said. “We haven’t gotten a big hit in the past couple games. ... We just came through at the right moment.”
Northern Nash (14-8) was out-hit by Nash Central but wasn’t outscored. The Knights tried plenty of fixes but discovered that the finest cure is to have their left-handed ace, Derrick Carter, on the mound and throwing his best stuff.
“He (has) been great for us all year long. He (has) been dominant,” first-year Northern Nash coach Leonard Allen said. “... He keeps us right there. On those nights when we score one or two runs, it seems to be enough at times for him.”
Carter scattered four hits and struck out 10, including five in the final two innings, in a complete-game shutout for the Knights, who won the Big East Conference regular-season title. Carter took care of the majority of Nash Central’s lineup, recording at least two strikeouts in three different innings and letting his defense work behind him.
There were no hard-hit balls or outstanding defensive plays, but the sound Northern Nash defense helped Carter.
“They did an amazing job,” Carter said. “We’ve been good defensively all year. Our defense has played great. I don’t think there’s a better defense in the Big East.”
No. 5 seed Nash Central (9-11), which carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning behind Kyle Taylor, will have to wait for its state playoffs outcome. Last year, the Big East Conference was awarded four bids to the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs.
“Derrick was special,” Nash Central coach Tony Guzzo said. “... He was an ace. The thing was, we got some hits, but every time we got something going, he dialed it up. He’d reach back, he’d change speeds and he had an extra fastball when he had guys on base.”
Carter twice struck out a pair of batters with a runner in scoring position and never faced more than five batters in any inning.
“Hopefully, he’ll take where he left off (Thursday) and just add to that Tuesday night,” said Allen, who will lead the Knights into the opening round of the playoffs next week.
Northern Nash can’t lose the conference’s top seed Saturday afternoon in the championship game against Wilson Hunt, but it will have a chance at the Big East sweep – something that Northern Nash hasn’t done, ever.
“We’re going to finish it,” Vester said.
The Knights had their chances early, stranding five runners on base through the first two innings. But Taylor, who is Nash Central’s regular second baseman, kept the Bulldogs in the game. He worked out of two major jams before walking the lead runner to open the fifth inning.
With the top of the order coming up, Guzzo opted to pull Taylor, who had turned the semifinal into a two-inning game.
“I was just proud of our kids,” Guzzo said. “We weren’t even supposed to be here, but we were here and we were competing. I don’t think anyone gave us a chance (Wednesday) night and certainly not (Thursday). That’s why I was proud of the guys.”
Northern Nash has grown accustomed to winning without hits and again found a way to score. Alex Cooke walked to lead off the fifth and stole second before Vester’s single into left field. Vester advanced on Tyler Barrett’s single and a full-count walk by Hunter Moore before scoring on a wild pitch.
“That (has) kind of been us this year, not a lot of hits but hits at the right times,” Allen said.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org