Northern looking to regain confidence
In mid-April, Northern Vance head coach Benji Nelson wondered whether spring break was hitting his team at a bad time. The Vikings were streaking, having posted a 5-1 mark in six 3-A Big Eight Conference games to even their league record before a close loss to second-place Chapel Hill.
But the break came — along with washouts — and Northern (8-10, 5-7) dropped its third consecutive Big Eight game Friday. The last two losses, on consecutive days to Northwood, were the only two games the Vikings have played since the 3-1 loss to Chapel Hill on April 17.
“That’s no excuse. We had yesterday to get the rust off,” Nelson said of the 17-1, six-inning loss to Northwood Friday at Aycock Recreation Center. “Today, we struggled throwing strikes and we’re struggling offensively too. We’re not being aggressive like we were when we were playing well. Those two things bit us today.”
Northwood swept the season series after a 5-0 win Thursday in Pittsboro.
The Chargers (9-10, 7-5) stayed in third place behind Orange and Chapel Hill.
That leaves Northern, Cedar Ridge, Cardinal Gibbons, and J.F. Webb battling for state playoff berths — and the Vikings trying to regain their pre-break momentum.
“We have to find it quick,” said Nelson. “I told them we have Saturday, Sunday and Monday to find that confidence we had before we got on a break.”
Northwood plated three runs in the first inning Friday and led 8-0 before Northern got a run back in the fourth inning on Payne Watson’s double down the left field line.
The Chargers scored nine runs in the sixth, putting them in position for the mercy rule win.
Kale Boone got the start for the Vikings and Kevonte Hanks and Jabe Montgomery worked in relief.
Northwood starter Patrick Szczypinski went five innings and struck out eight before reliever Brodie Beasley fanned the side in the sixth.
Northern left runners in scoring position in the first, third and fourth innings.
Adding hits for the Vikings were Montgomery (2-for-3), Jared Bennett (1-for-3), Tabrian Scott (1-for-2), and Kyland Bullock (1-for-2).
Northern continues to play its home games at Aycock after school administration deemed the field at Northern unsafe to play games on.
“I think they’ve handled it real well,” Nelson said of his team. “I couldn’t be any prouder of having to make this adjustment. We appreciate Aycock letting us do this, but I think our kids have adjusted well, playing at what’s really a neutral site.”
Northern has two games left, both against Webb next week. The Vikings and Warriors meet Tuesday in Oxford and Friday at Aycock.
Northern is searching for its third consecutive postseason trip.
“We really want to make the state playoffs for them,” Nelson said of his seniors. “Getting back would be a big achievement for this team. I’m wanting it real bad for them.”
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