WILSON – Even though Nash Central learned the hard way that no lead is safe, the Bulldogs still understood the message.
So even with their catcher lying flat on his back and the rest of the team staring at a nine-run deficit, the Bulldogs still knew they could come back.
Even if they didn’t quite believe they could.
As run after run came home and Nash Central cut into Wilson Hunt’s lead Thursday night in the Big East Conference Championship, the Bulldogs realized they might be able to complete a comeback that felt insurmountable just 20 minutes earlier – until the runs stopped, and Wilson Hunt held on to win 10-8 at Wilson Hunt High School.
“I just didn’t want them to die,” interim coach Buck Edmundson said. “Just don’t die, keep fighting.”
The dugout looked and felt nothing like a team that had come up short of a rally to lose the conference title.
It hurt to lose, but after being swept by Wilson Hunt during the season – and then falling behind by nine runs – the loss didn’t have the same sting that it could have.
That might be because Nash Central already is guaranteed to play host to a playoffs game when the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs begin next Friday.
Thursday’s game wasn’t about winning the conference title. Sure, Nash Central wanted to win, but the Bulldogs were fine with losing.
“We just wanted to see some forward progress,” catcher Dillon Moore said. “We didn’t really come out to win. We wanted to win, but we didn’t want to waste everything. ... We just wanted to see something come out of it.”
Recovering from a nine-run deficit – at least mentally – is what Edmundson was looking for. Falling into that hole bothered Edmondson. Nash Central (10-12) looked as if it were trying too hard to make a play early and instead made a few mental errors.
Twice in the second inning, Nash Central was tagged out between second and third. One inning later, Jon Keel was thrown out after being waved home.
Still, the Bulldogs trailed by just one run heading into the bottom of the third. Then pitcher Tyler King walked Wilson Hunt left fielder Dillan Howard, the Warriors’ No. 9 batter, as he was trying to give himself up for a sacrifice bunt.
That was the start.
The next 10 Wilson Hunt batters that stepped to the plate either reached base or drove in a run.
“For us to go where we want to go this season, we can not have those bad innings, and we can not have those miscues on the basepaths,” Edmundson said.
Momentum then shifted with Moore lying on his back near home plate after he was run into by Wilson Hunt right fielder Collan Braddy.
Braddy was ejected, and momentum shifted.
While there was talk of giving up and forgetting about the conference title, Christian Perry’s lead-off single in the fifth stopped the chatter.
Nash Central built from there after Jordan Taylor walked, and King singled to right field.
“We knew what we had to do,” Nash Central right fielder Colton Vaughn said. “We had to keep fighting with heart. We’d been down before. We’ve showed we can fight with anybody.”
Khalil Macklin drove in one run with a single, then Moore drove in a pair with a double to left field.
Kyle Taylor and Vaughn drove in two more runs, and all of a sudden, Nash Central was back in a game it had no business being a part of just minutes earlier.
“When we started getting something, then we started getting more life,” Edmundson said. “That’s the exciting thing with baseball. That’s why we play.”
There were just too many runs and too few outs.
Nash Central scored twice more in the seventh inning, but when Keel struck out, the rally was done.
Edmundson hopes the Bulldogs’ season is far from finished.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com