The phrase ‘Achilles’ heel’ comes from a myth in which a discrete weakness causes the death of an otherwise invulnerable warrior.
Northern Nash’s baseball team had its own weakness.
Although not as hidden, it had a similar effect, ending the Knights’ best season in the past five with a 4-2 loss Saturday against Southern Lee in the second round of the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs.
The Knights struggled for hits all season, especially late in the year. The pitching was stout and the defense sound, but the offense always seemed to lag behind.
“Our Achilles’ heel got us,” Northern Nash first-year coach Leonard Allen said. “We knew we’d pitch well and play good defense throughout the year. We knew that we were going to have to find a way to score runs to be successful. ... It (has) been our Achilles’ heel. When we haven’t been able to score more than two runs, we haven’t won ballgames.”
Northern Nash (15-10), which concluded its best season since a 2009 run to the regional championship, had just five hits Saturday at Northern Nash High School – three of which came in a two-run fourth inning.
“Some days, you just have those hitting days where you can’t hit,” shortstop Chad Haggerty said.
Southern Lee (20-8) broke a late tie with two runs off a surprisingly inaccurate relief appearance by Knights ace Derrick Carter, who walked two batters and allowed a single to start the sixth inning. Northern Nash retired the next three batters but not before two runs crossed the plate.
In the final two innings, Northern Nash could do nothing to trim the lead. Only one runner reached base – on a five-pitch walk.
“We just could never square up,” Allen said. “I’m not taking anything away from their pitcher (Ben Gaster) because he got us out, but it was batting practice speed. We could not square it up whatsoever.”
The Knights, which lost just once all season when scoring three or more runs, again struggled with their approach at the plate, constantly swinging early in counts only to earn ground outs or pop flies. With the Cavaliers’ outfield playing shallow for much of the game, they were able to cut off any bloop hits.
“We just need to work on adjusting and hitting the ball,” third baseman Chad Nelms said. “Our defense was good (Saturday). We just need to work on hitting the ball.”
Northern Nash has tried juggling the lineup among many other strategies in an attempt to combat its offensive woes during the past two weeks.
On Saturday, they took an aggressive approach on the base paths.
After Dwight Daniels doubled in the fourth inning, he stole home on a double steal. Haggerty came home one pitch later on a steal and a throwing error.
“A big part of our growing-up stage this summer and getting ready for next year is our approach at the plate,” Allen said. “You can only do so much with certain pitches.”
Northern Nash, which missed the playoffs entirely last season and hadn’t won a playoffs game since ’09, will have plenty of growing to embrace during the next few months. The Knights return all but one player next season, including their top four pitchers and all nine starters.
“We want to be going further,” Allen said. “The pitching is coming back. The defense is coming back. Everything is coming back. We just need to work extremely hard on bad discipline and squaring up the baseball.”
Southern Lee 4
Northern Nash 2
SL 000 112 0 – 4 5 2
NN 000 200 0 – 2 5 1
WP: Ben Gaster (5IP, 2R, 2ER, 5H, 1BB, 3K); LP: Derrick Carter (2IP, 2R, 2ER, 1H, 2BB, 2K).
2B: Cullen Boyette (SL), Dwight Daniels (NN).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org