Walk-off win puts Northern in playoffs
Kevonte Hanks might not look exactly like the fastest guy on Northern Vance’s team — but the sturdy senior is making a good case for himself to earn that title.
Hanks scored the winning run from first base Friday against J.F. Webb on Nate Arrington’s two-out double to deep right-center field.
Hanks slid safely under the tag of Webb catcher Ethan Bailey, giving the Vikings a 3-2 win in eight innings to close the regular season for each side.
With Orange’s victory over Cedar Ridge Friday, Northern (10-10, 7-7) clinched its third consecutive trip to the 3-A state playoffs.
“He’s had an inside-the-parker this year and then scoring from first,” Northern head coach Benji Nelson said of Hanks, with a smirk, “I believe he’s the fastest guy on the team.”
After the umpire signaled “safe,” the Vikings rushed from their third base dugout to mob Arrington at second base.
Arrington and Hanks are both seniors and Arrington earned the win in relief of Hanks on Senior Day at Aycock Recreation Center. Connor McFalls joins them in the senior class.
“Those two guys have been the heart and soul of this team the whole year,” Nelson said of Arrington and Hanks. “They carried us and I wouldn’t expect anything different from them.”
Northern secured fourth place in the 3-A Big Eight Conference behind unbeaten Orange (20-3 overall), Chapel Hill and Northwood.
Webb finishes 6-13 overall and 3-11 in league play.
“When you coach long enough, it happens and you’re able to stomach it a little better,” Webb head coach Mike Carroll said of the ending. “What you can’t stomach are the plays that you made before them to put you in that situation.”
Zack Keeton went the distance on the mound for Webb, which scored two runs in the sixth with consecutive hits from Bailey and Keeton to go up 2-1.
The Vikings leveled the score in the bottom of the sixth when Arrington scored Jared Bennett on a single.
Bailey and Beau Smith are the Warriors’ only seniors.
Carroll said he likes the team he has coming back next season; then, the focus will be completing games.
“We’ve had that kind of season,” said Carroll. “We’re right there in games and we compete. We give up an error or unearned runs. You just can’t win ballgames like that. You can compete all day, but you’re not going to win them.”
“Relief” was Nelson’s first thought when Hanks was called safe. He badly wanted a return trip to the postseason.
He’s got it.
The Vikings will be on the road Wednesday in the first round.
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