Panthers look to ride offensive momentum into second half

Published 10:56 pm Thursday, April 2, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS GOOD WOOD: Sophomore lead off man Nick Crisp got on base four times during Thursday night’s rivalry game against Southside.

GOOD WOOD: Sophomore lead off man Nick Crisp got on base four times during Thursday night’s rivalry game against Southside.

CHOCOWINITY — Thursday’s Coastal Plains Conference showdown between county rivals Northside and Southside was perhaps the most meaningful game of the young season for both teams, a win keeping championship hopes alive in what’s shaping up to be a very winnable table.

“Both us and Southside were stuck at 1-3, and I felt like this was the game where there had to be some separation at the bottom. The winner of this game is still very much in the hunt and I’m not saying you can’t come back with four losses, but it will make your job a whole lot more difficult,” said head coach Keith Boyd. “We felt like coming in we really needed to get this one.”

On paper, the Panthers and Seahawks are nearly identical, each having their fair share of inconsistencies across the board, thus far. And, oddly enough, the starters gave up seven hits apiece, which made the final score of 13-2 even more intriguing.

The difference was defense. As errors continue to plague the Seahawks (15 in two games), Northside find themselves in the middle of an offensive resurgence, averaging nearly 10 runs through the last three contests.

Advantage Panthers. The win keeps them in the hunt for a conference title and postseason berth, all while preserving the momentum heading into Spring Break.

Whether it’s temporary or the start of an elongated run, all the pieces seem to be falling into place at the right time. Guys like junior Chase Sauls and seniors Caleb Alligood and Dalton Etheridge have remained poised at the dish, but it’s been junior cleanup man Jensen Hawkins that’s been one of two constants for Boyd.

Hawkins, during the last three games, is batting .454 with four RBIs as the designated hitter.

The other dependable piece not only through the last few games, but during the entire season has been junior Zack Woolard, who has emerged as a true ace for Boyd. Against Southside, the southpaw tossed seven innings, striking out four and walking just one.

“For the most part, Zack Woolard kept them off balance with his breaking ball and he looked great up there,” Boyd said. “He got some timely plays behind them. He gives me a No. 1. I look at my week and if I really need a win, this is the guy I start.”

Following in former ace Ryan Arthur’s footsteps — though, coach admits, he has a uniquely different way of “getting it done” — Woolard has given up just nine runs in 26.1 innings of work (3.47 ERA) en route to a 2-2 record. Unlike Arthur, however, Woolard is without a plus fastball and counts on mixing speeds and pitches to throw off opponents, forcing ground balls and fly outs rather than strikeouts.

His style of pitching leans strongly on the defense to make the routine play, routine. So far, after a rocky defensive start, Northside appears to have locked down its defense for now.

It’s that consistent defense, newfound offense and the reliable left arm of Woolard that will carry, or sink, Northside in the second half of the season. It’s three areas Boyd sees the keys to success in this year’s conference.

“We feel like if we can get on a roll we can beat anyone we play,” Boyd said. “Last year it was your have and have nots. This year, everybody else on any given night can knock you off.”

Northside will travel to Trenton on Tuesday for a Spring Break matchup with Jones Senior. Again, the winner has the opportunity to gain ground in the Coastal Plains Conference.