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Panthers ready for Round 1

Northside coach Keith Boyd (right) talks to some of his players during a game earlier this year. Boyd and the Panthers will begin the playoffs today at Mattmuskeet. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

YEATESVILLE — It’s been a rollercoaster ride of a season for the Northside baseball team and after finishing the regular season losing four out of its last five games the Panthers are hoping that it’s time to head back up again.
The journey to the top will start today as Northside (13-10), the No. 5 seed from the Four Rivers Conference, will begin the NCHSAA 1-A playoffs on the road against Mattamuskeet (14-8), the No. 1 seed from the Tideland Conference.
Familiarity will not be an issue for either team when they take the diamond today at 7 p.m. because the two have squared off against one another three times already this year, with Northside winning each battle. Despite the team’s recent success against Mattamuskeet, Panthers’ coach Keith Boyd is by no means overlooking the Lakers.
“We’ve played them three times and won three times but that’s deceiving,” Boyd said. “The first time was a 1-0 win and the second time was a 3-2 win. They were both tight games that could have gone either way and the third game was in the Easter tournament were we won (8-2) but they had some kids that weren’t real healthy that are healthy now.”
With a solid lineup that includes star hitters like Brandon Marsh, Dillon Cutler, Caleb Sherman and Ryan Arthur, the Panthers have produced some pretty healthy run totals this season but Boyd said the key to sustaining a long playoff run will be to avoid the lack of execution on defense that plagued Northside at the end of the regular season.
“We scored some runs, we just weren’t able to make some plays,” Boyd said. “We’re hoping to get that straight. We feel like it’s the playoffs and a new season and it doesn’t matter if we are 13-10 or 22-1, if you win you continue to play and if you lose you go home.”
Aside from team defense, another big factor for the Panthers this postseason will be the consistency of their pitching staff. Marsh, a 2011 WDN All-Area first teamer, can be counted on to give a quality start each night, but Northside has not had that kind of sustained success from it’s other starters who have wowed on some nights but have not been as effective on others.
“We’re just kind of pitching by committee right now, that’s kind of been our thing all year long,” Boyd said. “We haven’t been able to settle in on one guy (to be the No. 2 starter). We’ll have a guy pitch a good outing then the next time get roughed up … It’s been hard to find consistency in the No. 2 spot.”
For now, Boyd’s focus is squarely on Mattamuskeet as he said he will start Marsh and worry about the future in the future.
“We’re going to start Marsh tonight, I don’t see how we can’t,” Boyd said. “We can’t worry about the next one until we win the first one.”
If the Panthers do manage to win the first one they will advance to the second round of the playoffs to face the winner of the No. 2 Riverside-No.3 East Carteret contest.