NGA baseball searches for playoff bid
By Justin Hubbard
The last time the Nathanael Greene Academy baseball team took the field, the Patriots experienced one of the wildest games one could imagine.
NGA took on Central Fellowship Christian Academy on April 4, and a bevy of mistakes combined with solid hitting by Central Fellowship had the Patriots in a deep hole. At one point, the score stood at 18-4. The final tally was 18-16.
Although the Patriots dropped the contentious game, their head coach, Garey Clark, was impressed by his team’s refusal to go down without a fight.
“We came battling back,” Clark said. “Their pitchers struggled, too – they walked a bunch of us. I think their guy had 12 walks or something. ... And when they did throw strikes, we hit them. We had three or four doubles. Next thing I know, it's 18-16 and we've got a shot.”
Clark said he wasn’t happy with the inconsistency displayed by the Patriots, though. He said the team has had a few performances where it looks like a contender, but there have been just as many where it didn’t.
The Patriots’ record stands at 5-5 (2-1 Division I-East) because of their inconsistent play. Usually, Clark said, NGA’s losses can be blamed on fixable errors.
He said if the Patriots can consistently make plays and limit their mistakes, then the team could be a real threat.
“They played like the biggest knuckleheads that ever have shown up one inning, and then the next inning they made up for it,” Clark said in reference to the game against Central Fellowship. “That's what we've got to quit doing, is giving away runs. We just give them away. I've told them a million times, 'Let them hit it over the trees. I'm good with that. Let them beat our butts. That's fine. Don't give it away.'”
An encouraging note for NGA is the three games before the loss to Central Fellowship were all victories. The Patriots opened the campaign 2-3 and had a couple blowout losses on their record.
Since then, NGA has effectively flipped the proverbial script, posting a 3-2 mark. The two games NGA lost were dropped by only a combined five runs. Clark said it took some time for a few players to come around, pointing out the fact some players, such as Joseph Crumbley and Will McCommons, weren’t able to participate in preseason practices because of basketball.
Although Clark would have preferred a victory over Central Fellowship, he said he remains confident in his team despite the loss because the way the Patriots have played recently is much improved from earlier this year.
“We've lost a couple games that we kind of gave away, and then we'd play two or three really good games where we played good defense, threw strikes and hit the ball real well,” he said. “In the beginning, we faced a pitcher or two that we weren't ready for, but, as the season's gotten longer, just through repetition, when we face a decent pitcher, they're putting the bat on the ball and putting it in play. That gives us a chance.”
Another thing keeping Clark’s hopes up is he’s seen the players respond to his coaching.
“They're seeing what I'm talking about,” Clark said. “They understand that I'm right, because I'll ask them, when we lose a close game, 'What beat us?' 'Walks.' 'What else?' 'Errors.' 'There you go.' If we'd cut our walks in half or cut our errors in half, we'd won (against Central Fellowship) by four runs.”
Next up for the Patriots is a region showdown with rival John Hancock Academy. NGA travels to Sparta this coming Monday, and the game holds a lot of importance. The Patriots are currently neck-and-neck with David Emanuel Academy for the region lead.
They already own a victory over John Hancock, a 10-7 win that came on March 27, and a sweep would put NGA in first place. If the Rebels are victorious, though, the Patriots would finish second.
A second-place finish would mean NGA must play on the road if it indeed secures a postseason bid, which is likely. This year, the Patriots have a 3-0 road record.
Senior catcher Adam Brown recently provided some encouragement to the team, pointing out the Patriots’ success away from home.
“If we end up coming in second in the region, then we'll have to go on the road,” Clark said. “I said that to them the other day. ... And my catcher looks up at everybody and he goes, 'Well we're a great road team.' And I'm like, 'That's a great attitude.' They feel confident on the road.”
NGA will have four games remaining following Monday’s tilt with John Hancock. A postseason berth sits in front of the Patriots, and Clark said he is confident they can make it.
Once they get into the playoffs, Clark said he believes the Patriots can go on a run.
“We're hoping to go to the playoffs and catch on fire,” he said. “We are playing better, so it is a possibility. ... We're in it. It's just are we going to be that team that makes the plays we're supposed to make, or are we gonna not focus and get put out of the playoffs? That's what it boils down to. We can do it. We'll see.”