2014 WDN Baseball/Softball Coaches-of-the-YearPublished 10:12am Monday, June 2, 2014
By DAVID CUCCHIARA
Washington Daily News
KEITH BOYD, NORTHSIDE
In three seasons, Northside transformed from a middle-of-the-table threat to a championship contender, and with head coach Keith Boyd at the helm, the Panthers spent most of 2014 as Class 1-A’s team to beat.
With a roster of just three seniors, the Panthers entered as one of the younger teams in the county, but their youth was hardly a limitation. Boyd’s lineup was unconventional with the team’s leading home run threat, sophomore MacKensi Swain, in the leadoff spot, while slap hitter Alex Adams No. 2. Rolling the dice, Boyd went with an unproven freshman, Rachel Lang, in the No. 3 spot and sophomore standout Kendall Alligood at cleanup.
The result was a top-heavy lineup featuring six All-Coastal Plains Conference selections that posted 278 runs, good for fourth-best in the class.
Boyd also had a unique ability to trust his talent. Jessica Cleary, batted hit just .282 as a junior, began that season hitting just .192 through the first 10 games. Yet, the Panthers’ coach kept his senior leader in the lineup, a decision that would pay dividends down the road.
Cleary not only improved, but also exceeded preseason expectations, finishing with an impressive .407 average and an all-conference nod.
On the mound, Boyd utilized the sister duo of Kelsey and Rachel Lang to perfection. With a variety of off-speed pitches in her arsenal, Kelsey finished with a 1.41 ERA, while Rachel ended with a microscopic 0.41 ERA. Allowing just 41 runs all season, Northside had the third-best run differential in the class.
The Panthers were a force to be reckoned with and looked unbeatable, activating the mercy rule in six of their last seven games. However, in the third round of the playoffs, the offense and defense struggled simultaneously for the first time all season, resulting in an unlikely finish to an otherwise historic run.
The loss aside, Boyd navigated his team to an unprecedented 22-2 record, best in the class. With his ace and four of his top five hitter returning, expect another exceptional season in 2015.
JOHN SCOTT CUTLER, PUNGO
First-year head coach John Scott Cutler inherited a .500 Pungo team that spent decades trying to better perennial baseball powerhouse Lawrence Academy.
After beginning the season 1-2, the Raiders slowly started to find their identity, winning four straight though solid starting pitching.
In Cutler’s first look at Lawrence as the head coach, he sent ace Cole Austin Woolard to the hill. Woolard kept the Warriors’ offense at bay for seven innings, allowing two unearned runs, but the Raider offense proved dormant. Lawrence pulled out a close 2-0 victory.
The second time the two opponents met, however, Pungo would pull off a historic win, defeating Lawrence for the first time since the ‘90s. Again, Cutler kept Woolard on the mound for the duration of the contest, even though the senior gave up five runs.
Whether it was giving the steal sign or shuffling the rotation, Cutler seemed to make the right decisions at the right times. The Raiders finished with an 11-6 record and second in the conference, just one game behind Lawrence, despite having a higher overall winning percentage.
As a team, Pungo had a poor .253 team average, but an extraordinary 2.03 team ERA.
Pungo also was the only Beaufort County baseball team to advance past the first round of the playoffs after defeating Wayne Country Day in a pitchers’ duel, 2-1. With Woolard and Marcus Williams graduating, Cutler will rely on Dalton Etheridge and Will Respess to lead the team in 2015.