PITTSBORO — Sometimes body language says it best.
When asked what went wrong offensively for his team against Orange’s dominant pitching in Tuesday’s 9-4 loss, Northwood head …
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PITTSBORO — Sometimes body language says it best.
When asked what went wrong offensively for his team against Orange’s dominant pitching in Tuesday’s 9-4 loss, Northwood head baseball coach David Miller raised his shoulders slightly as if to say “What can you do?” before following it up with a response.
“(It was) Hench,” Miller said, referring to Orange’s sophomore starting pitcher Ryan Hench. “He’s really good. I think that was only the second run he’s given up all year, so put a notch in our belt, right?”
In fact, Hench’s lone run — scored off an infield error — was the first scored all year when he’s been on the mound. And since it was an unearned run, Hench maintained his perfect 0.00 ERA.
You can't do much better than that.
The first inning for Northwood was promising, even with Hench throwing pitches.
The Chargers were able to reach base on three of their first four plate appearances via a hit-by-pitch (to lead off the game), a single by sophomore Luke Smith and a walk for sophomore Zach Barnes.
With the bases loaded with just one out, Hench struck out junior Nick Lovingood before sophomore Nate Ortiz reached on an error in the infield, scoring a run and keeping the bases loaded.
However, the early deficit didn’t seem to faze Hench, who struck out the final batter of the inning and stranded three Northwood runners.
Hench didn’t allow a hit for the remainder of his five innings on the mound. Aside from a couple of walks and another hit-by-pitch — none of which yielded runs for the Chargers — he was nearly flawless, pitching four scoreless innings and rarely giving Northwood a chance.
“He competes,” Miller said. “You get him a little riled up and he responds. He responded very well.”
Hench, who’s capable of throwing an 86 mph fastball, is arguably the best pitcher in the Big 8 Conference this season, allowing just five hits and zero earned runs in 24 innings pitched. In that same time frame, he’s racked up 37 strikeouts and held his opponents to a .063 batting average.
Northwood was only able to muster one hit against him on June 1, an improvement from the Chargers’ 10-1 loss to Hench and the Panthers on May 7, when he allowed zero hits in four innings pitched.
“We’ve got to get to work,” Miller said after the game. “We’ve got to do a better job as a coaching staff to get our kids, offensively, where they need to be.”
While the Chargers scored four runs on the night, only one of them counted as an RBI — a Lovingood bases-loaded walk in the seventh inning — and none of them came from a batter driving in a run with a hit or sac fly. The other three came off of mistakes made by the defense, not so much off of positive offensive plays by Northwood.
In the seventh inning, down 9-1 and their chances of victory dimming, the Chargers brought out their rally caps.
For a brief moment, it looked like they had a shot.
The half-inning began with a single by Bae off of Orange senior pitcher Pierson Kenney for Northwood’s second hit of the game, followed by a Smith walk to put two runners on with no outs.
After a pop-out in the following at-bat, Kenney walked two more batters — Barnes and Lovingood — the latter of which came with the bases loaded and put another run on the board for the Chargers. After three walks in five batters (along with one hit) and the bases loaded, Kenney was pulled for sophomore Joey Pounds.
Despite scoring a run and running the pitcher out of the game, there was still an eight-run gap to close for Northwood. There was a long road ahead.
Pounds performed well as the backup closer, striking out the next batter for the second out before Chargers sophomore Drew Entrekin knocked a hard-hit ball to the shortstop, who struggled to collect the ball in time to throw a runner out. The error allowed two runs to score, making it 9-4 and giving Northwood life with two runners on base.
Northwood junior Walker Johnson followed with a single to left, loading the bases with freshman Andrew Johnson up to bat.
“We were putting a little something together,” Miller said. “We needed another hit or two, another baserunner or two, but other than that, we were just trying to make them nervous.”
Despite being down by five runs with the bases loaded and two outs, Miller called for Johnson to bunt, but the decision backfired as the runner was thrown out at home plate by the pitcher, ending the game.
“If we get it where we’re supposed to get it, where we practice it, we’ve got a really good chance of getting on base and getting to the top of the order,” Miller said about his decision. “If I knew we were going to run it into the pitcher, I probably wouldn’t have called it.”
Defensively, it was a rough game for just about everyone.
Together, the two teams combined for nine errors — five by Orange, four by Northwood — but as a whole, the Panthers’ pitching was much more sound than the Chargers’, which yielded nine runs on eight hits and four walks.
Chargers freshman Josh Frankena (L, 2.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 BB; 1-2 overall record) pitched well in his third start of the season. But he struggled with his control throughout the first couple of innings, culminating in a third inning where he allowed a walk and two hits — a single and an RBI double — before being pulled by Miller for Lovingood, who would go on to pitch three innings himself.
Frankena, who has made the most of his starting opportunities as a freshman, is just one piece of Northwood’s massive youth movement.
“(Josh) is having to learn at a little bit of an accelerated rate, but all-in-all, he did good tonight,” Miller said. “He’s coming off of two really good outings against South Granville and Cape Fear, so we just wanted to see if he could continue with that. I’m not disappointed in his outing at all.”
This season, Northwood’s roster has zero seniors, but is packed with underclassmen: 11 freshmen and sophomores.
Though the playoffs are out of reach for the Chargers, every game is crucial in developing some of the younger names — like Frankena — and gearing them up for the next few years, when Northwood will likely have a stronger team.
There are two games left for Northwood on the season: Tuesday, June 8, at East Chapel Hill and Wednesday, June 9, against Northern at home.
Miller and his team will try to make the most of them.
“Any of the victories that we get or the experiences we get down the road here is stuff that we can build on next year,” Miller said. “So it’s huge, whether it’s one good inning or a really good play for Zach (Barnes) or a good inning by Hayden Miller, any of that is going to propel you forward and help you get there a little quicker than expected.”