Prep playoffs set to begin

Published 7:24 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Northside pitcher Ryan Arthur and the Panthers will begin their playoff journey  tonight when they face Gates County on the road. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

Northside pitcher Ryan Arthur and the Panthers will begin their playoff journey tonight when they face Gates County on the road. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

The second season is set to begin today and the hope is that it will be a long one for the four area teams that made it into the 2013 playoffs.
After holding its breathe in hopes of a wild card berth, Northside (8-15, Four Rivers) can finally exhale as it was awarded entry into the playoffs and will face No. 1 Gates County (12-9, Tar Roanoke) on the road tonight.
Four Rivers Conference champions Riverside (19-3) will begin its playoff journey at home today when it hosts Creswell (6-8), a wild card team from the Tideland Conference.
South Creek (12-9), the No. 4 seed from the Four Rivers Conference, will travel to take on No. 2 Columbia (10-8, Tideland) tonight at 6 p.m., while No. 5 Plymouth (11-10, Four Rivers) will hit the road to battle Tideland Conference champions Mattamuskeet (14-5) on Friday.
When news of their wild card berth spread the Panthers were ecstatic and now the challenge is to make the most of their second life.
“We’re very excited,” Northside coach Keith Boyd said. “Everybody was a little apprehensive because we were on the bubble. The kids have been asking me every day about it and finally (on Wednesday) I was able to give them an answer and they seemed excited and ready to go.
“Being the wild card team up against a No. 1 seed, we’re just hoping that maybe they take us for granted a little bit. Our strength all year has been pitching and defense and if we can keep our errors down and scratch out a few runs we feel like we can be in this thing.”
All season long the Panthers have relied on junior ace Ryan Arthur to keep them in games and Boyd said he would play a big role tonight against Gates County.
“We need him to bring his ‘A’ game,” Boyd said. “He’s been very reliable all year and we’re hoping that he can get up there and give us six or seven good innings.”
While Arthur has been consistent all season the Panthers’ offense has not and today the lineup will have to find a way to put some runs on the board in order for Northside to advance.
“The X-factor for us is whether we can hit the ball,” Boyd said. “If we can hit the ball and score some runs then I really like our chances.”
Despite losing six starters from last year’s team, Riverside likes its chances as well and was able to win the Four Rivers Conference outright for the first time in the school’s three-year existence.
The Knights have made it to the fourth round of the playoffs each of the past two seasons and are hoping that trend continues.
“That’s our goal every year,” Riverside coach Hank Tice said. “If you get to the fourth round you’re only seven innings away from the Eastern finals and that’s a goal we try to reach every year.”
In order to do that the Knights will need aces Kyle Leggett and Ryan Wagner to remain hot.
“Kyle Leggett has been a workhorse for us all year. He’s 9-0 and he’s had a great season on the mound,” Tice said. “Kyle and Ryan Wagner have been our Tuesday/Friday starters and Ryan White and Brandon Chesson have thrown the ball well for us too. We feel like we have enough arms to make a run but you got to get lucky, catch a break and play good.”
That pitching staff has been aided greatly by a Riverside lineup that’s dangerous from its leadoff hitter down to the No. 9 spot.
“The thing that’s been the most surprising this season is that one through nine we’ve hit,” Tice said. “Every game it’s been somebody different. With guys like Kyle, Lawrence Smith, Mathen Ange and Zach Howell it’s just been a bunch of guys that have been consistent.
“This team can run a little bit too. Our top five hitters can all turn a single into a double and a double into a triple. That’s kind of been an unsung thing this year. We have some guys that can put pressure on the defense.”
While Tice is a postseason veteran, Plymouth first-year head coach Alan Swain will be making his first playoff appearance with the Vikings thanks to a strong showing in the second half of the season.
“We’re excited,” Swain said. “I feel like we earned a second chance because it didn’t look likely that we were going to get in halfway through the season.”
The Vikings will clash with a solid Mattamuskeet team and Swain said senior leadership will be vital come game day.
“Having a sturdy group of seniors has been the foundation of this team,” Swain said. “We need the seniors to continue to carry the team and use their previous playoff experiences to give us the best chance to win.”
South Creek has also been hot down the stretch and enters its clash with Columbia having won five of its past six games.
“We’ve been playing good as of late,” South Creek coach Wes Hughes said. “We just need to continue to make the small plays. We’re going to go down to Columbia and give it our best shot and take it one game at a time.”
The Cougars, who plan on starting Austin Lee versus the Wildcats, have received good pitching from its staff all year long, while their bats have been hot.
“The whole year our pitching has been our strength,” Hughes said. “But, lately we’ve been getting some timely hits. We’ve been swinging the bats much better.”