Nash Central loses chance for playoffs in Big East finals defeat

By Nick Piotrowicz

Sports Writer

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WILSON – The Big East Conference’s No. 2 seed in the playoffs belongs to Wilson Fike, and the Golden Demons earned the bid in every way Saturday.

Third-seeded Fike overshadowed No. 5 Nash Central’s good offensive day with an even better one, recording 14 hits – six for extra bases – to win the Big East Conference Tournament championship at Wilson Fike High School, clinching a home game in the playoffs.

“They did earn it. They did. Top to bottom, they hit the ball,” Nash Central coach Gary Smith said. “That’s the name of the game. They hit it. We hit it. They just hit it a little more than we hit it.”

Nash Central (10-10) recorded 10 hits of its own against Fike (11-6), but the one lead it had was short-lived. Kathryn Wilkins and Sarah Keel both knocked in runs as part of a three-run third inning that gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead, but that was only the beginning of neither defense being able to stop the opposing offense.

Two doubles in the bottom of the third tied the game – five different Fike players hit a double Saturday – then Fike hit two more in the fourth as part of a three-run burst to go up, 6-3.

Nash Central hit right back in its next at-bat, however, as Brittani Strickland and Harley Winders both scored after recording back-to-back singles to start the inning and cut the deficit to one.

Even though the Golden Demons had 13 hits to that point, the lead was slim. After Nash Central pitcher Kelsee Whitley recorded two quick outs in the fifth, it looked as if she would have her first clean inning of the night.

Instead, it snowballed the other way. Nash Central committed four errors and Fike had two hits – all with two outs in the inning – for a five-run rally that proved to be too much for the Bulldogs.

“As you can see, anything can happen, even with two outs in the inning,” Fike coach Teresa Glover said. “Earlier in the season, our team wasn’t finishing games. This game I felt like we came in at the top and worked all the way to the last out. I was proud of them for starting the game and finishing the game to get a win.”

Keel went 2-for-3 with an RBI for Nash Central, while Whitley went 2-for-4 with a run scored.

Fike pitcher Amber Baker allowed four earned runs, though she made up for all of them with four RBI at the plate. Golden Demons leadoff batter Riley Bane went 4-for-4 with four infield hits.

The season hardly was a lost one for the Bulldogs, who graduated nearly everyone last season’s title team. Strickland, the lone returning infielder, laughed when she was asked what she expected for her senior year.

“Not much,” she said. “But, I mean, we improved a lot. I wasn’t expecting us to be battling for first, second at the beginning of the season. Defense, hitting, everything – we came a long way.”

Nash Central still can make the playoffs with an at-large bid, though the prospects don’t look great for the Bulldogs. The bracket will be released today.

“We gave it a really good shot. Things just didn’t go our way,” Smith said. “They really surprised a lot of people this year. I’m hoping we’ll see the bracket (today) and be surprised again. Crazier things have happened, right?”

 

No. 3 Wilson Fike 11
No. 5 Nash Central 6
NC     003 020 1 6 10 5
WF    111 350 x –    11 14 2
WP: Amber Baker (7IP, 6R, 4ER, 10H, 3BB, 2K); LP: Kelsee Whitley (4.2IP, 11R, 5ER, 14H, 2BB, 0K).
2B: Jessica Pendergrass - 2 (WF); Baker (WF); Madison Ward (WF); Chandler Adams (WF); Jamie Hogan (WF). 3B: Sarah Keel (NC).

Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@rmtelegram.com