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There’s a bonafide 2-A Eastern Plains Conference dynasty in Kenly, home to the North Johnston High varsity baseball team.
Entering Friday’s game at Beddingfield, the Panthers had won 25 straight games against EPC opposition, to include back-to-back undefeated conference championships in each of the last two seasons.
In no way was that threatened against the Bruins, as North Johnston used a six-run second inning and a massive 13-run fourth en route to a 21-1 win in five innings.
North Johnston improved to 10-5 overall and 4-0 in EPC play, while Beddingfield, coming off a 13-3 loss to East Wake Academy on Thursday, dropped to 6-7 and 1-3 in the conference. The Panthers preceded Friday’s game with a 7-0 win over Beddingfield at home Tuesday night.
However, a streak that now stands at 26 games and counting isn’t discussed in North Johnston circles.
“To be honest with you, that’s not even brought up,” North Johnston head coach Brian Ford said. “We’re about the next game. Because we know in this conference, we know any team on any night can be beat.”
North Johnston quickly put any notions of being defeated to rest. Senior Trey Whitley led off to open the game and took a 1-1 pitch from Beddingfield starter Austin Slate over the fence in left center for the game’s first run.
As part of a six-run second inning, Whitley strolled to the plate and stroked a two-run single up the middle, giving the Panthers a 5-0 cushion. Previously in the inning, junior Tucker Batten laced an RBI single and sophomore Ty Narron worked a bases-loaded walk.
Yet Whitley would be lifted after trying to score on an error in the second inning. Sophomore left-hander Dylan Pitts, the winning pitcher, dropped down a bunt that was misplayed by the Bruins. Narron scored on the play, but when Whitley tried to join him, he left his feet to dive head first against Beddingfield catcher Rio Montes.
Whitley was out on the play, promptly spelling the end of his day after three RBIs in first two at-bats. He could later be seen applying ice to his right leg in the dugout.
“Going to the plate, I saw (Montes’) legs open,” Whitley said. “My idea, before I slid, I was going to slide between his legs. Then as soon I as hit the ground, he dropped his knee, and I was just trying to get there the best I could.”
Beddingfield scratched its lone run in the third. Junior Mann Farmer singled home Slate, who reached on a two-out single and reached second on a failed pickoff attempt.
But matters completely imploded on Beddingfield in the fourth inning with North Johnston already leading 7-1. With North Johnston sending 19 men to the plate, the Panthers used eight hits and three Beddingfield errors to produce 13 runs. Eight North Johnston runs scored with two men out. Sophomore Nathan Woodard doubled off the fence in left center as part of the spree.
“After that, it just seemed like we couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Beddingfield head coach Noah Edens said. “Murphy’s Law kind of kicked in. If it could go wrong, it did. A lot of balls were just out of our reach, and not a whole lot you can do about it. That’s why it’s so important to make the plays when you get a chance to make them.”
Before the fourth inning concluded, Ford was already playing to station-to-station baseball, not allowing his team to take the extra base. In the Beddingfield half of the fourth, NJ junior shortstop Daylan Hinnant was injured trying to chase a ball down in shallow left field. With no more substitutes available and Hinnant unable to run, Ford informed the Beddingfield dugout that he would be bunting. After contact, there was no attempt to run to first from Hinnant.
“There’s a lot of etiquette in this game,” Ford said. “And if you know how to play the game the right way, you try not to run that score up. We also know that we’re going to be on the other end of that coin someday.”
Narron was 2 for 2 with a pair of singles and four RBIs, drawing a pair of bases-loaded walks. Pitts allowed four Beddingfield hits in his five innings of work.
Sophomore Chastin Bailey, junior Jamison Clifton, senior Brandon Barnes and Woodard each collected two hits for NJ’s potent offense.
“Last year was more of a pitching team,” Whitley said. “This year’s team, I think we’re more of a hitting team. We still have the arms to keep us in the games, but our hitting, just the consistency and our energy in the dugout is what sets us apart.”
Score by innings:
WP-Dylan Pitts (1-1) 5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO LP-Austin Slate 3 2/3 IP, 11 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 6 BB, 1 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — North Johnston: Chastin Bailey 2-2, Trey Whitley 2-2, HR, 3 RBI, Jamison Clifton 2-2, RBI, Brandon Barnes 2-4, Nathan Woodard 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI, Ty Narron 2-3, 4 RBI; Beddingfield: Mann Farmer 1-3, RBI, Austin Slate 1-2, Tyler Godwin 1-3, Rio Montes 1-2.