CHAPEL HILL — East Chapel Hill sophomore Sam Smith stared down at the dirt below him. As he stood behind home plate, several paces from where the Northwood Chargers tagged him out in a pickle, he kicked the red soil with his cleats.
Desperation was beginning to set in for the Wildcats.
Smith was in a prime scoring position when the Chargers took advantage of an errant base-running mistake in the bottom of the fifth. In the previous two innings, a combined three Wildcats were stranded on base.
“Plays like that, that gets our energy up, that gets the momentum going in our favor a bit,” Northwood head coach Kyle Robinson said.
Flipping the momentum was absolutely necessary for the Chargers as they fought back from their two-run deficit to defeat East Chapel Hill, 6-3, on Monday evening. After the Wildcats took an early lead in the second inning, Northwood held the Tigers scoreless for the rest of the game. The Chargers, on the other hand, scored four runs across the third and fourth innings.
After two extra-innings losses to Person and Southern Lee earlier this season, both of which saw Northwood relinquish two-run leads in late-game scenarios, the Chargers held a team meeting. Robinson implored his squad to adopt a new mentality — they needed to take the game from their opponents.
Down by two runs in the third Monday night, Northwood tied the game at 3-3 after a double from senior outfielder Nate Davis scored senior utility Jackson Shaner. Nate Davis was promptly scored by first-year catcher Robert Tripp, whose grounder dribbled past the outstretched glove of junior East Chapel Hill third baseman Hueston Gorham.
The Chargers took a two-run lead of their own in the fourth inning. Senior Sal Delgado worked his way to a full count before knocking a blooper just over the head of East sophomore pitcher Sam Lang, scoring sophomore Kaleb Howell. Sophomore Omar Gallegos scored the Chargers’ fifth run of the game from third after Lang threw the ball to second base, attempting to pick off a steal.
Junior Jake Leighton’s diving catch in center field to end the sixth inning, and an insurance run from Nate Davis in the seventh inning, served as an exclamation mark on the night.
“Tonight, we didn’t get comfortable with the lead,” said senior Seth Davis, who finished the game with two runs and two hits. “We kept fighting, we kept pushing, we kept advancing the lead, which allowed them to be uncomfortable and allowed us to be more comfortable.”
Aside from the Chargers’ grit on the offensive end, Delgado’s performance on the mound in relief was crucial to Northwood’s win. The senior entered the game in the third inning and heeded his coach’s advice to “shut ‘em down.”
“Just being able to come in the game,” Seth Davis said, “I mean, he pitched his heart out.”
Delgado gave up zero runs over five innings pitched. He allowed four hits and two walks but also managed to strike out five batters. In the back of his mind throughout the night was the message from the Chargers recent team meeting — don’t let off the gas.
Now, thanks to Northwood’s efforts against East, the Chargers enter Spring Break riding the high of a three-game win streak. The team will return to action on April 18 to face Orange, the squad Robinson cites as “the team to beat” in Northwood’s conference.