As Khalil Macklin crossed home plate in the bottom of the first inning, Nash Central coach Tony Guzzo and pitcher Tyler King both let out a sigh of relief – at least that’s how they remembered it after Wednesday night’s game.
Macklin, the Bulldogs’ lead-off batter, made his way around the bases to open the scoring in the Big East Conference opener for both teams.
In a game that featured each team’s aces, that first run was vitally important.
It was about all King needed.
King dominated the rest of the way, pitching three perfect innings and carrying a no-hitter into the fifth inning of the Bulldogs’ 6-1 victory at Nash Central High School.
“Once he gets a run, he’s good,” Rocky Mount High coach Kent Cox said of King. “... When they get one run in the first or second inning, he goes into cruise mode then. Even if he can’t get his off-speed over, it doesn’t matter.
“He (has) got a good enough fastball that he can get it by anybody in the league.”
King had been held to a pitch count in every nonconference game this year.
He went through the same process last year but seemed relieved to be off the tight restriction Wednesday.
“It was all for this right here,” King said of the pitch count.
After walking the first batter, he didn’t issue another free pass, retired 12 straight batters at one point and scattered three hits.
The only run he allowed was on a sacrifice in the sixth inning, and he finished the game with 11 strikeouts on 104 pitches.
King even went out for the seventh inning, despite Guzzo’s hesitation.
After allowing the lead-off runner to reach base, King struck out the final two batters he faced in the game – his fourth inning with at least two strikeouts.
But the Bulldogs’ early run left Nash Central (4-4, 1-0 Big East) at ease, while putting pressure on Rocky Mount (3-5, 0-1)
“It was huge,” Guzzo said. “It let us relax, and it put a lot of pressure on them, especially their pitcher. He feels like he has to throw a shutout the rest of the game all of a sudden. I thought that really set the tone for us to have a good offensive day.
“... It’s a lot easier to get a second run when you have one than when you don’t have any. I thought it was a huge psychological advantage for us, getting that first run.”
The Bulldogs worked another run across in the third on an RBI single by designated hitter Zach Denton.
Denton struck again in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Rocky Mount starter Cody Smith struggled to open the fifth and was pulled from the game with the bases loaded.
Nash Central managed just one hit in the four-run sixth inning, but it was keyed by Denton’s two-run double to right-center field – only the fourth pitch thrown by Gryphons’ reliever Blake Helms.
“It blows the game open,” said Denton, who went 2-for-2 with three RBI. “It puts the team down, and it buries their confidence.”
David Sutton scored twice and added an RBI.
The Bulldogs’ scored two more runs as they stretched the lead late.
Both coaches agreed that the final score was much wider than the game ever felt. It’s a feeling they likely will have the rest of the Big East season.
“Two or three losses could win this league this year,” Cox said. “You don’t know. It’s going to be a lot of 2-1 ball games or 3-2 ball games. The fittest is going to survive. I told them that after (Wednesday), three teams are going to be 1-0, and three teams are going to be 0-1.
“We’re in the middle of the pack, and now, you’ve got to fight to get back to the top.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org