‘Our future looks really bright’: Knights deplane Aviators in 15-run blitzkrieg as freshmen shine

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SILER CITY — With one swing of the bat, Julian Todero ended it.

It took just one pitch for Todero’s bat to connect with the ball, slicing it toward the right fielder, who had no chance of making a play before it collided with the grass and gave junior Cameron Turner a stress-free trip to home plate.

The game was over. And it was only the fourth inning.

Turner represented the 16th runner that touched home plate for the Chatham Charter Knights, who throttled the visiting Ascend Leadership Aviators, 16-1, on April 26 in a four-inning affair — cut short by the 15-run rule — to improve to 10-3 on the season.

Todero’s walk-off RBI acted as case-closing evidence for a fact that head coach Bill Slaughter has known for a while: the Knights’ freshman class is legit.

“Our future looks really bright with these kids,” Slaughter said following the dominant win. “They ask all the right questions, they’re coachable, they’re fun to be around. All of the clichés, but they’re all true. They’re just good kids.”

Chatham Charter has five freshmen on its roster this season, all of which saw action in the Knights’ blowout victory over the Aviators from Sanford.

The hard-hitting trio of Todero (2-for-2, RBI), Zach Cartrette (3-for-4, 2B, 3B) and Luke Johnson (1-for-3, 2 RBI) racked up a whopping six hits in nine at-bats. Not too shabby for a group that’s still technically learning the ropes.

Cartrette had the game’s first massive hit on a double to left field in the first inning, which helped Turner make his way to third base after he’d singled on the first pitch in the previous at-bat.

Then, Johnson, batting in the clean-up spot, smacked a liner to center field for his only hit of the day, scoring both Cartrette and Turner to give the Knights’ an early 2-0 lead.

By the end of the first inning, the Knights had a commanding 7-0 lead, thanks to a pair of RBI singles from sophomores Jonah Ridgill and Aidan Allred, along with two hit-by-pitches and a walk that acted as base fillers.

Aiding the Knights’ high-scoring first was their ability to run the bases and get into scoring position, having stolen six bases in the opening inning that contributed to their total of eight on the day.

“We run the bases well, we have good team speed,” Slaughter said. “We have probably the best speed I’ve had since I’ve been at Chatham Charter because I can bring in courtesy runners that can get extra bases and that’s not something I’ve always had. It used to take us three singles to score a run, but now we can score and make things happen.”

Slaughter said his sophomore class — namely Allred (2-for-4, 3 RBI), who bats in the lead-off spot and is a wizard when it comes to making contact — complements his freshmen well to form a solid underclassmen nucleus.

And when your freshmen and sophomores account for 10 of your team’s 13 hits, as was the case for the Knights against the Aviators, there’s plenty to be excited about.

“We’ve gotten so much better,” Slaughter said. “You see a game like this and you say, ‘Well, you’re supposed to beat this team,’ and that’s true, but we did it the right way. It wasn’t a lot of mistakes on their part, we hit the ball well.”

While the impact of this season’s freshmen at the plate can’t be understated, with Cartrette leading the team in both batting average (0.565) and total hits (26), the Knights’ youth has been crucial on the mound all year long.

Freshmen make up two-thirds of the Knights’ three-man rotation, with Johnson and Cartrette joining senior Landon Hussey as the team’s primary starters.

Johnson started against the Aviators on April 26, allowing 1 hit and no runs on 33 pitches, striking out 5 batters during his three-frame outing.

“He had a rocky game his last time out,” Slaughter said of Johnson, who allowed 4 earned runs in two innings of work against Southern Wake on April 21. “But today, he settled down and almost faced the minimum (number of batters) in those three innings.”

Johnson allowed a single to lead off the game, but quickly bounced back and proceeded to tear through the next nine batters, ending his day with more strikeouts (5) than baserunners allowed (1).

But that wasn’t the last time the Knights relied on one of their freshmen.

Cartrette — the pitcher with the most innings pitched for the Knights this season — came in to start the fourth with his team nursing a 10-0 lead and struggled at first, allowing a full-count single to right field before hitting an Ascend batter in the thigh to put runners on first and second base with no outs.

The Aviators scored their first run of the game during the next at-bat, when a pickoff-attempt-gone-wrong allowed a run to score, which was followed by a single to keep two runners on base.

Then, Cartrette locked in and forced a ground-ball double-play on the first pitch in the next at-bat, then ended the inning on a full-count swinging strikeout to avoid any further damage.

“Both of those kids have a chance to be really good down the road,” Slaughter said of his freshman pitchers. “I have faith in them. That’s who pitched against Southern Wake. I started Zach and brought Luke in relief. Most people are going to try and find a junior or senior to pitch those big games, but they’re my two best. And we’re going to use them.”

Hussey has been stellar for the Knights this season, too, allowing just 6 earned runs through 21.1 innings pitched, bringing his wealth of experience to the otherwise youthful pitching corps. He was in Atlanta for a Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) conference on April 26, keeping him out of the dugout during the win.

In the bottom of the fourth, the Knights got an RBI single from junior Aamir Mapp with the bases loaded to make the score 11-1, but two pitches later, Allred whacked a hard ground ball past the right fielder for a double that cleared the bases and gave Chatham Charter a 14-1 advantage.

Then came a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch by Knights senior Colton Nixon — who’s been hit 11 times this season, including twice against the Aviators — that set up Todero’s game-sealing single for his second knock of the inning.

To start the season, Chatham Charter was forced to cancel the first eight games on its schedule due to many of its players also being on the basketball team, which made a run to the state championship game in March.

But despite the lost time, the Knights don’t look like they’ve missed a beat.

“We’ve only been here for six weeks,” Slaughter said. “I’m so pleased with how we’re playing right now.”

The Knights officially finished second in the Central Tar Heel 1A conference with a 10-2 conference record after a 10-0 shut-out win over the River Mill Jaguars last Friday, just behind Southern Wake at 10-1.

They’ll face off against the Clover Garden Grizzlies (8-7) on Tuesday in the first round of the conference tournament. Results can be found on the News + Record’s website.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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