Northern Nash didn’t exactly earn a victory Friday night against rival Rocky Mount High, but the Knights will take it nonetheless – especially because it means the first regular season Big East Conference title in school history.
The Knights, who split the conference title in 2009, are alone atop the Big East after a 3-2 victory against the Gryphons that included just two hits by the Knights and ended with a redeeming unearned, game-winning run.
“It’s a great feeling, even better than I thought it would be,” said pitcher Derrick Carter, who didn’t know that the Knights hadn’t won an outright Big East Conference regular season championship.
Carter gave the Knights (13-7 overall, 7-2 Big East Conference) a chance even after Northern Nash left 10 runners on base through the first four innings and didn’t manage a hit after the third.
“We came over here and knew what was on the line. ... We had our chances,” Rocky Mount coach Kent Cox said. “Somebody has to come up and get a big hit.”
Still, Rocky Mount had a chance to tie it after the Knights gave them new life. Down by one in the top of the seventh, the Gryphons (7-11, 4-5) benefited from a pair of dropped balls in the outfield, one by center fielder Jacob Green that scored the game-tying run.
“I definitely wanted a chance to make up for it,” said Green, who surprised himself in center field by tracking the ball well before dropping it. “... I don’t miss balls like that, but it was nice to come back in and have another chance. It makes me feel a lot better that I scored the winning run.”
Green, who drove in a run in the fourth inning on a walk, was set to bat third a few minutes later in the bottom of the eighth.
With two outs, Green drew a four-pitch walk and stole second base. He ran without looking back when Tyler Barrett hit a ground ball to second base and rounded third without even a glance.
Josh Carter’s throw missed first baseman Sam Lilley, and Northern Nash was able to claim its first outright championship.
“It’s a testament to these kids,” Northern Nash coach Leonard Allen said. “They’ve worked hard all fall, and they deserve it. They are a deserving group of kids. They weren’t content with how things went last year, and they made all the difference. ... They’ve done a tremendous job working in the offseason.”
Northern Nash finished in fifth place in the conference last year, and in Allen’s first year with the team, the Knights not only put together a seven-game winning streak before the conference season but also claimed the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament next week.
An automatic bid to the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs comes with that achievement as well. The Knights haven’t won a playoffs game since 2009, either.
“They wanted to be here, and I couldn’t get rid of them or get them off the baseball field,” Allen said of the team’s offseason commitment. “... They just decided that something had to change, and they were a big part of that.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org