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The 3-A Big East Conference has joined several other North Carolina High School Athletic Association conferences, including the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference, in revising its schedule for conference play.
For the first time this season, Big East teams will go against the same opponent on a home-and-away basis during the same week.
Jon Smith, Hunt High athletic director and head baseball coach, points to numerous positives.
“With the conference moving games around for weather and other (school-related functions), it makes it cleaner,” Smith reasoned. “Rescheduled games don’t affect anybody but the two teams playing one another.”
With the arrival of inclement weather Monday evening, this week’s conference-opening series provide a perfect example.
By moving up game times, all three league-opening encounters were played Monday as scheduled. The second test was set for Wednesday but, because of the weather, will likely be moved back to Friday.
Thus, Fike and Southern Nash or Hunt and Northern Nash only have to be concerned with rescheduling the rematch instead of rescheduling a contest with another opponent and then finding a date when the second game of the series can be contested.
Smith also spoke of “cleaner final standings for playoff seedings” with only the conference’s top two teams assured of a postseason opportunity.
Opposing the same team twice the same week pretty much eliminates the possibility of a team facing the opposition’s pitching ace twice.
“I like it,” Smith said. “You don’t feel an urgency to get the game in. You know you’ve got to play just two games in a week. Other conferences have been doing it for a few years, and everyone seems to like it.”
The revised scheduling was strongly influenced by the pitch-count rule, which is being enforced for the second year.
The rule stipulates that, if a pitcher throws 30 or fewer pitches, no day’s rest is required. The rest period is one day for 31-45 pitches, two days for 46-64 pitches; three days for 65-84 pitches and four days for 85-104 pitches.
Southern Nash senior right-hander Leroy Edwards pitched six innings against Fike. Thus, it’s unlikely he will be available for mound duty in the rematch.
Smith believes the combination of the pitch count and scheduling the same league opponent twice in the same week will contribute to improved competitive balance in the conference.
Hunt’s head coach remembers occasions when an ace pitcher led a team to victory against the top team in the conference but, with the ace not on the mound, the team lost to a lesser opponent.
“Sometimes, a team may have won the conference because, although it was not the best team, it had the best pitcher.”
And as Fike head coach Buck Edmundson expressed: “Baseball is a funny game. The best team doesn’t always win.”
“I am cautiously optimistic,” Edmundson continued. “It’s more baseball-like in that you play a series — even though it’s only two games.
“In our league, you have really got to make sure you bring your ‘A’ game every time out, but it levels things out with pitching.”
Edmondson explains a coach can elect to pitch his ace the entire game or he might consider starting him and limiting his pitch count in the first game and either starting him or bringing him on in relief in the second game.
“A coach has a choice,” Edmundson said. “I believe it’s a little more fair.”
He suggests adjustments will be required by coaches, players and fans and reminds: “This is my first time doing it.”
On the Big East scene, opposing the same conference rival twice in the same week will happen only in baseball. Edmundson said he could understand coaches’ hesitation in sports such as softball and soccer because of the different dynamics involved.
BIG EAST SIGNATURE
One-run outcomes have been come the signature of Big East baseball.
“Big East Conference baseball — a one-run game,” Southern Nash head coach Todd Brewer remarked after his Firebirds lost 3-2 to host Fike on Monday.
Smith suggests one-run games are the difference in finishing high and not-so-high in the standings.
He points to a season when his Warriors lost seven games — all by one run. Four of the defeats occurred in conference play.
Hunt seized the 2017 Big East crown and Smith assures critical was the fact his team won a trio of one-run games against conference foes.
Fike should be braced. Three of the Golden Demons’ first eight games have been decided by one run and the winning team has not scored more than six runs in any outing.
“I’m about tired of it; we need to score some runs,” responded Fike head coach Buck Edmundson.
TEAMS TO BEAT
Brewer projects his Firebirds and Fike as top 2018 Big East contenders. Thus, the season-opening series is critical and, in Brewer’s opinion, salvaging a split against the Golden Demons is imperative.
Brewer also notes Rocky Mount is blessed with talented but young players, and assures Hunt will be coached to be troublesome in conference play.
“We had a rough spot early,” Brewer said of the Fike game, “but we played good defense today and I think we got that straightened out.”
Southern Nash senior center fielder Alex Noland expresses the opinion that the Firebirds and Fike will be among the teams to beat.
“We both play solid defense and hit the ball when we need to,” he noted.
HATS OFF TO LEROY
As Brewer alluded, Southern Nash sparkled defensively against Fike.
Junior catcher Storm Tyson provided a pair of sparkling plays — a catch up against the backstop and a diving grab of a fouled bunt attempt.
“Storm is playing his heart out,” Brewer commended.
However, watching Leroy Edwards play baseball tugs at emotions.
Consider that he pitches and only has the use of his right hand. Edwards delivers a pitch and, before the ball can be hit back his way or the catcher’s throw is returned, he has slipped a glove upon his throwing hand and is in a fielding position.
Late in Monday’s game, a slow roller was hit between the mound and third base. Edwards broke from the mound, discarded the glove, fielded the baseball bare-handed and rifled an accurate throw to retire the batter at first base.
“He’s always amazing,” Fike’s Edmundson declared.
Brewer agreed, adding: “Leroy battled all right. He probably didn’t have his best stuff, but that’s the sign of a really good pitcher.”
BRING ON BEAN
Fike senior right-hander Trevor Mills, pitching against the Southen Nash team of which he was a member last season, didn’t have his best stuff, lasting four innings.
Mills admitted he was anxious and Edmundson said he was overthrowing.
Fike’s head coach decided four innings was enough and Mills heartily agreed.
“I didn’t have it,” Mills admitted. “I wanted him to bring in (sophomore right-hander) Chad Bean because I thought it would give us the best chance of winning.
“He has done great things for us all season and I had full confidence with him in there.”
Bean responded by allowing only an infield hit in three innings. He posted three strikeouts in notching the save and preserving the win for Mills.
The Fike High team is awaiting the findings of an MRI that will likely determine the status of standout senior shortstop Hunter Stokely.
“We just don’t know,” commented Edmundson. “We don’t think it’s as bad as we originally thought it was. But it could be a week or two of rest or it could be season-ending.”
Stokely, who plays every infield position, pitches and catches, injured a knee while running the bases in last Friday’s game at West Carteret.
Edmundson reported Stokely stretched a tendon that’s situated over the patella and basically keeps the knee cap in place.
“His presence just makes us a lot better team,” Edmundson declared.