Chargers' inexperience on display in season-opening loss to Cedar Ridge

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 5/1/21

PITTSBORO — As the Chargers learned on Tuesday, a perfect opening day atmosphere doesn’t automatically ensure a perfect opening day game.

It was an evening fit for baseball.

Clear. …

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Chargers' inexperience on display in season-opening loss to Cedar Ridge

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Posted

PITTSBORO — As the Chargers learned on Tuesday, a perfect opening day atmosphere doesn’t automatically ensure a perfect opening day game.

It was an evening fit for baseball.

Clear. Sunny. Comfortable. Beautiful.

The stands at Northwood were filled with families watching their student-athletes play, younger kids running around with no interest in the sport and future Northwood students getting a glimpse of game day in Pittsboro.

But by the middle of the fourth inning, Northwood was being shutout, 5-0, in what would eventually be a lopsided, fairly sloppy opening-day loss, 8-2, to the Cedar Ridge Fighting Red Wolves.

“I thought Cedar Ridge did a really good job of doing things that we want to do to be successful,” said David Miller, Northwood’s head coach. “I thought they were very well-coached, obviously had a lot of energy and they played better than we did, they executed better.”

That energy, which the Cedar Ridge dugout seemed to have from the first pitch, proved to be a major momentum shifter throughout the game. Whenever the Fighting Red Wolves would do anything of note — get a hit, throw out a runner, steal a base, among other things  — the dugout would let everyone hear about it.

Even though the two teams were playing in Pittsboro, at times it felt like a Cedar Ridge home game.

The Fighting Red Wolves took an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, putting the Chargers’ offense in an immediate hole.

In the bottom of the first, Cedar Ridge junior starting pitcher Will Berger (2.2 IP, H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 3 Ks) allowed Northwood sophomore Zach Barnes (1-for-4, RBI) to single after walking the Chargers’ lead-off batter. Then came a strikeout and another walk, loading the bases with just one out and giving the Chargers a prime opportunity to either shrink their deficit or take a lead.

However, what followed was an issue that destroyed Northwood throughout the night: stranding runners.

The next two batters — sophomores Salvador Delgado and Luke Smith — struck out swinging, ending the inning with the bases loaded, a great opportunity gone.

In total, nine Chargers were stranded on base at the end of an inning, six in scoring position. Cedar Ridge, on the other hand, stranded just three and did a much better job of getting its baserunners home.

In the top of the second, Northwood junior starting pitcher Nick Lovingood committed an error on a bunt single by Cedar Ridge senior Grady Ray, allowing him to reach second. He walked the next batter, then Ray scored on a single by junior Braedyn Jacobson to make it 3-0 with no outs.

It was time for a Northwood pitching change.

Miller decided to move Barnes from third base to the mound, a decision that worked well as he pitched the rest of the inning with little issue, getting them out of the second without suffering too much damage aside from one more run on a sacrifice fly.

“We knew he was going to pitch,” Miller said. “We were hoping to get a little bit later in the game before we used him, but I just felt like it was a crucial time, they already had a couple of runs on the board, a couple of runners on, so I thought it gave us the best chance to get out of the inning and stay in the game.”

Barnes (5.0 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 3 Ks) kept the Chargers afloat for most of the game, allowing just one earned run during his five-inning stretch — though the Fighting Red Wolves scored a couple of unearned runs.

Once Barnes entered the game, the Chargers had three errors over the next few innings, all in the infield, which helped score two more runs. By the end of the sixth, Cedar Ridge had a 7-1 lead, needing to grab just three more outs to come away with a comfortable win.

Northwood was never able to get into a groove on either side of the ball, leading to frustration in the dugout, which was exacerbated by a couple of controversial calls, most notably while Cedar Ridge was batting in the fourth inning.

On one of them, Cedar Ridge senior Bryce Clark attempted to steal third after advancing to second on a passed ball. The ball got to third with plenty of time for a tag out, but Clark made an impressive sliding move to narrowly avoid the tag and reach the bag — that is, according to the umpire.

Miller came out to argue the call, spending a couple of minutes pleading his case in frustration to no avail. The call never amounted to any runs for the Fighting Red Wolves, but moments like those seemed to take the wind out of the Chargers’ sails.

“There were certainly some calls that didn’t go our way,” Miller said. “You get frustrated when things don’t go your way, but it’s part of the game and we’ve got to handle it better. We’ve got to let the coaches complain and the players need to play.”

After adding another run in the top of the seventh, Northwood needed at least seven runs in the bottom of the inning to keep its chances alive.

It started well with a single by junior Walker Johnson, followed by a walk for junior Mason Bae and a sacrifice fly by Barnes, scoring Johnson and cutting the deficit to six runs.

Barnes’ sac fly, however, was the team’s second out and after back-to-back walks to load the bases, Delgado flew out to end the game, stranding three more runners and taking a bases-loaded opportunity home with them.

It wasn’t quite the opening day experience the Chargers had hoped for, but with an entire season to go, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

While Miller says it’s no excuse, Northwood is a young team that’s still getting the hang of varsity baseball after losing nearly an entire season last year due to the pandemic. There isn’t a single senior on the roster.

“We’re young and especially without last year, without last summer, without last fall, without even early spring, we’re inexperienced,” Miller said. “We had a talk the other day, just because we’re young and inexperienced, that doesn’t mean we’re not here to win, it doesn’t mean we’re not trying to win the conference. It’s true, but it’s not an excuse.”

When asked about what his team, as young as they are, needed to work on moving forward, Miller replied with a chuckle: “Everything.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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