Powers collide

Published 7:19 pm Monday, May 23, 2011

Plymouth coach Terry Perry (left) and Riverside coach Hank Tice (center) meet at home plate before a regular season baseball game in Williamston. Tonight, the Vikings will host the Knights as they play for a NCHSAA 1-A Sectional title and the right to advance to the East Regional round of the playoffs. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

Tonight’s battle for a Sectional title promises to be a classic as two of the area’s top baseball programs collide on the diamond when Plymouth hosts rival Riverside for the right to advance to the NCHSAA 1-A East Regional round of the playoffs tonight at 7 p.m.
Both team’s hail from the Four Rivers Conference, which has proved to be one of the strongest in the state in both baseball and softball this year. Plymouth (22-4), the conference champions and No. 1 seed, swept the second-seeded Knights (22-4) during the regular season but Vikings coach Terry Perry knows that means nothing once the two teams take the diamond tonight.
Since the postseason began Plymouth has yet to play a team outside of its conference as it squeezed past wild card Southside 3-2 in the first round and topped another wild card team in Manteo 7-5 in the second round. The Vikings were able to clinch its District championship on Friday when they beat No. 5 Camden 3-2.
“The biggest challenge of the playoffs has been playing these teams a third time,” Perry said. “You have to make (the players) understand that you could be beat on any day because those other teams are good or they wouldn’t be here.”
The Knights road to the Sectional round began with a 16-0 stomping over No. 4 Northampton-West (Tar Roanoke) before they topped No. 1 Gates (Tar Roanoke) 7-1. Riverside locked up its District title by beating Perquimans, the No. 3 seed from the Four Rivers Conference, 6-2 on Friday.
“I think its safe to say that our conference is a really good conference. Some people say it’s the best (1-A conference) in the state – I won’t say that because I haven’t seen all the other conferences – but what I do know is that from top to bottom our conference was solid and I think any time you can win a championship or share one in the Four Rivers Conference you have had a great season,” Riverside coach Hank Tice said. “Anytime you can extend your season in the playoffs it’s really exciting and I’m just happy for the communities of Williamston and Jamesville and I’m happy for all the coaches, players and parents. It’s been a really good year and I hope we can have a couple more good nights.”
Both teams have hit extremely well this season but each coach has cited team defense as the No. 1 key to getting a victory tonight.
“We must play near perfect defense,” Perry said. “They are a good baseball team and to beat them twice says a lot for our team. To try and beat them a third time we are going to have to go out and play really good defense.”
Tice said that his defense, which has allowed three runs the entire playoffs, has been the backbone of his team this year and must show up tonight.
“The key to our whole season has been defense. We have pitched pretty well all year and hit pretty well all year but the thing that has been the most consistent is our defense,” Tice said. “It’s gonna come down to throwing strikes and playing defense … It comes down to not giving up extra outs.”
Both teams will have to choose between two quality pitchers to record those outs as the Vikings will either pitch D.J. Cook or Sean Holloway while the Knights will pick between Mathew Perry and Will Gurganus.
“D.J. is more of a locator guy, he’s going to change speed and locate his pitches,” Perry said. “Sean is a guy who can step up there and just try and throw it by you.”
For Tice, both Gurganus and Perry have been effective this season because each possess an expanded repertoire and are not afraid to throw any pitch on any count.
“Gurganus commands three pitches. He’s got a very nice breaking ball, throws a split finger fastball for a strike and that’s probably his best pitch right now plus his velocity has gotten better over the season,” Tice said. “Both of those guys can throw off-speed pitches on fastball counts and that’s why both of them have been successful. Matt Perry is pretty much a fastball/curveball guy and he’s able to throw his curveball on 3-2 counts. When you can pitch teams backwards and throw off-speed pitches on fastball counts you have a chance to win.”
While both teams posses quality pitchers and a sturdy defense, the Knights and the Vikings also have lineups capable of turning tonight’s game into a slugfest.
The Vikings are led by the likes of leadoff hitter Chris Rogerson and cleanup hitter Ronnell Blount, both of which were WDN all-area first-teamers last season.
Blount is a true five-tool player who can hit for power and average and wreak havoc on the base paths. During the Vikings’ 3-2 extra-inning win over Southside in the first round of the playoffs, it was a Blount delayed steal of home that gave Plymouth the winning run.
“With Ronnell being a senior he’s kind of our guy who gets us up; he’s our motivator Perry said. “He talks the rest of the team up and he’s really good with his bat and getting on base. When he’s on base he worries the pitcher and puts pressure on the defense.”
The Knight’s also have a solid lineup and right now their heart-of-the-order hitters are swinging big bats.
“Hot right now is Christian Leggett, he’s 11-for-13 in the playoffs,” Tice said. “Caleb Whitley is swinging a bat as good as anyone in our lineup. Lucas Gloover is hitting really good along with Mat Perry and Will Gurganus. Our one through nine for us have had pretty good games in the playoffs. You are going to have two good teams where all nine hitters that go to the plate for both teams are going to hurt you.”
Whichever team can survive tonight’s battle will advance to take on the winner of the No. 1 Midway (20-5, Tri-County) – No. 1 East Columbus (19-4, Three Rivers) for a three-game series in the East Regional round of the playoffs.

The Riverside softball team will also be involved in an area showdown as the No. 1 Knights (19-6) will battle Four Rivers Conference rival No. 5 South Creek (17-7) for a District championship.
The winner of that game will advance to take on the winner of the No. 2 Southside (20-4, Four Rivers) – No. 1 Princeton (19-5, Carolina) matchup in the Sectional round of the playoffs.
Riverside has topped Mattamuskeet and Camden to get to this point, while South Creek has upended Creswell and Rosewood. Southside blew past North Edgecombe and was able to hold off Northside to get to the District round.