With ace Tyler King unavailable and coach Tony Guzzo suspended, Nash Central wasn’t at full strength for Thursday’s home game against Northern Nash.
But on Senior Night, the Bulldogs found themselves more than halfway through the game with a win well in reach.
Then, it all snowballed the wrong way for Nash Central. Northern Nash crafted a big inning – which has become the trademark of this season’s Knights – scoring seven runs in the fifth en route to a 9-4 victory at Nash Central High School.
“Our pitchers pitched well enough to win,” Nash Central assistant coach Zach Boyette said. “I don’t think it was anything against them. They got the ball over the plate like we wanted, but we just didn’t make plays behind them.
“That’s kind of been a problem we’ve had.”
Boyette said Guzzo served the fourth of a five-game suspension Thursday, though he declined to say why Guzzo is suspended.
Nash Central (7-9, 4-4 Big East Conference) received a solid start from Khalil Macklin, who allowed one earned run in three-plus innings of work.
It all went awry in the fifth inning for the Bulldogs.
Northern Nash (12-7, 6-2), then ahead, 2-1, erupted in the top of the fifth inning. Jacob Green and Tyler Barrett both reached with one-out singles, and Derrick Carter walked to load the bases.
Hunter Moore hit an RBI fielder’s choice, and Nash Central pitcher Kyle Taylor plunked two hitters in a row. After Dwight Daniels walked, Chad Haggerty hit a two-RBI double, and the Bulldogs helped the cause with an error that scored Daniels from first.
By the time the inning was finished, the Knights were ahead, 9-1.
“We’ve been able to get the big inning in all the games we’ve been able to win,” Northern Nash coach Leonard Allen said. “Our pitching is good enough that if we get a two- or three-run lead that we feel that should be enough for us.”
Carter wasn’t at his best Thursday, but he was able to avoid significant trouble. Carter allowed four hits, four walks and four earned runs but stranded seven baserunners in four-plus innings. Barrett relieved Carter and pitched efficiently, allowing one hit and no runs in his three innings of work.
The adage in baseball is that hitting is contagious, but it rings especially true for Northern Nash, which has lived off innings like their fifth inning Thursday.
“After our first few games, coach told us, ‘This is how we are, so we have to keep it up,’” Haggerty said. “We know what we can do, and that’s what’s worked for us so far.”
Boyette rounded the Bulldogs together in the middle of the fifth and told them he had a vision of the Bulldogs winning in the seventh. They started the inning with a single, two doubles and two runs, but that was as far as they could go.
“We have the talent and the leadership to come back,” he said. “We’ve come back in plenty of games.”
With two Big East games to play, Northern Nash sits alone in first place.
The Knights have only home games remaining on the league schedule, with the possibility to score at least one home playoffs game if they win both of them. Northern Nash plays Wilson Fike on Tuesday and concludes the regular season against Rocky Mount High on May 2.
None of the nine Knights who saw game action Thursday is a senior.
“We didn’t quite expect this, but we knew we had talent,” Haggerty said. “We knew if we worked hard it could pay off. We just have to keep doing that.”
Northern Nash 9
Nash Central 4
NN 010 170 0 – 9 10 3
NC 010 030 0 – 4 5 3
WP: Derrick Carter (4IP, 4R, 4ER, 4H, 4BB, 4K); LP: Khalil Macklin (3+IP, 2R, 1ER, 3H, 3BB, 1K).
2B: Kyle Taylor (NC); Tyler King (NC); Alex Cooke (NN).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-99512 or firstname.lastname@example.org