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North works overtime to beat Reagan

North Davidson’s Josh Roberson pitches against Reagan on Friday. (Photo by Mike Duprez/The Dispatch)

WELCOME | For the better part of two hours Friday night, Max Royal was doing anything he could just to stay warm.

Little did he know his base-running heroics in the bottom of the eighth inning would propel North Davidson to a tense Central Piedmont Conference victory.

Royal trotted home with the winning run after teammate Kyhlil Miller drew a bases loaded walk in the extra frame, sending the Black Knights to a 4-3 win over Reagan on a downright cold evening.

But moments before North players celebrated came the most important play of the game.

After C.J. Rice drew a leadoff walk to open the eighth, North coach Mike Meadows inserted Royal, who is usually a relief pitcher, in as a pinch runner. Royal made good on that substitution when he raced from first all the way to third base during E.P. Reese’s sacrifice bunt. That hustle play forced Reagan coach Gary Nail to intentionally walk the next two batters to load the bases. One strikeout later, Miller took a high inside fastball on a 3-1 count, allowing the Knights to avenge a loss to the Raiders from earlier in the week.

“I had no idea I was going to go in and pinch run,” said Royal, who had not played until the eighth inning. “I guess we ran out of backups. The third baseman came in to throw (Reese) out (on the sacrifice bunt) at first but he was lazy and didn’t get back. So I just ran hard and made it in there.”

The win evened North’s record at 1-1 in the CPC and ended a well-played game in which both teams missed golden opportunities to take control in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

“We really missed some opportunities to move runners over and score some more runs but a lot of that has to do with the fact they have good arms they can throw out there,” said Meadows. “Max’s play was huge. He did that on his own. I wasn’t waving him over (to third base). He was keeping his legs loose in between innings and I guess it paid off.”

The Raiders, now 1-1 in the league, 6-3 overall, flexed their muscle early as Connor Leonard drilled a two-out, two-run homer to straight away center field off North starter Josh Roberson. The home team answered with a run in the bottom of the first on Rice’s sacrifice fly, RBI to right field.

From there, however, Roberson and Reagan starter Travis Tuttle, who is Appalachian State-bound, turned things into a pitcher’s duel.

Roberson worked out of a huge jam in the top of the fifth when he fanned Austin Wilson for the third out with the bases loaded.

Then in the bottom of the fifth, the Knights were able to forge ahead. Preston Blake and Miller coaxed back-to-back walks with one out and then Eric Morrow laced a single to right to plate Blake. Miller scored moments later on a wild pitch as Tuttle uncorked a one-hopper to the plate that Reagan catcher Spencer Holcomb had no chance to corral.

Holcomb quickly tied things up at 3-3 in the top of the sixth when he homered to right field. Drew Beaver came on in relief of Roberson later in the sixth and recorded a huge third out with Raider runners at first and third. Beaver then retired the side in the seventh and eighth innings to keep the Knights alive.

“Josh pitched great and Drew came on and did really well,” said Meadows. “This would have been a tough one to lose. For us to reach our goal of winning the conference championship, we could not have gone 0-2 (in the CPC).”

Nail was on the other end of the outcome.

“Our at bats toward the end of the game....I think we were trying to do too much,” Nail said. “But that’s 16-17 year-old kids and in the tense moment they are going to do that. I thought we might get out of the mess (in the bottom of the eighth) but that was a tough position to put your pitcher in. We had to load the bases. But hey, give North Davidson credit, too.”

Notes: The Knights are now 7-3 overall and will play at Mount Tabor on Tuesday. North only had five hits, but benefited from nine walks by Reagan pitchers. Beaver recorded the win and Jacob Hartle took the loss in relief.