East Chapel Hill 2, Northern Durham 0:
Published: May 01, 2012 05:41 PM
Modified: May 01, 2012 02:37 PM
East Chapel Hill only managed five hits against Northern Durham right-hander Zack Garrison Friday.
The Wildcats only needed two.
That’s because East Chapel Hill ace Max Hoffman threw a complete-game and limited the Knights to two hits as the Wildcats won 2-0. It was their eighth win in nine conference games and helped the team maintain their place near the top of the Piedmont Athletic Conference standings.
“Northern is a tough, tough club,” East coach Phil Woodell said. “They can give any team in our league a hard time, but they’re going to be a real handful when those kids get a little bit older. We came over here knowing they were good.”
A Northern win would have helped cross-town rival Jordan in the PAC-6 race. Nonetheless, Jordan (16-5, 9-1 PAC) inched a half-game in front of East Chapel Hill (15-5, 8-1 PAC) by picking up two wins last week – 9-0 against Hillside and 16-4 against Southern Durham – while the Wildcats took a break from conference play to get a 7-4 win against Union Pines out of the Cape Fear Valley 3A league.
East Chapel Hill and Jordan split their regular-season games head-to-head. If they both win out, that would mean a playoff for first place before the NCHSAA post-season.
East went into Friday’s game knowing that Garrison, a 6-1 junior with a good curve ball, had the team’s best W-L record (2-1) and a 3.75 ERA, and that Knights (7-12, 4-6 PAC) had allowed the league’s fewest runs until an 11-8 loss to Jordan.
“This was a huge game,” Hoffman said. “We know Northern is a great team, and that they can beat just about anybody.”
Garrison struck out eight Wildcats and walked just one, but they touched him twice in the top of the fifth, when he started the inning by walking second-baseman Henry Branson and then moved him over to second on a balk.
The next Wildcat up, sophomore third-baseman Josh Baldwin, faced two strikes before planting solid shot into right field to score Branson from second.
Baldwin advanced to second with a bunt by Hoffman and to third on a wild pitch. East shortstop Jake Hankins drove him in with a single into the left-center gap.
“They’re a good team, and their pitcher did almost as well as Max,” said Hankins, who went 1-for-3. “It was a close game until we got those two hits.”
The Knights’ two hits included a shot into center by junior shortstop Dillon Roberts in the third, but he was caught staling at second. In the fourth, freshman centerfielder A.J. Bumpass bounced a ball down the first-base line that slipped by the infielder and into right field, but he ended up being one of the five Knights left on base; four others got picked off by Hoffman.
“We just can’t seem to get over the hump,” Northern coach Greg Pruitt said. “Last year, we were losing these games by six, seven, eight runs. This year, we’re losing them by one or two, leading some games before losing them late.
“It’s a little disheartening, but we’re young and we’re growing. Next year I believe we’re going to get on top.”
Still working to regain 100 percent control of his effective changeup since straining his back in a complete-game, PAC-6 win at Riverside, Hoffman struck out five, walked five and hit two Knights.
Hoffman never allowed a Knight past second base, but he fretted a bit after walking two in the sixth, allowing the potential tying run to second before the next two batters lined out.
In 2011, Hoffman had a perfect game heading into the seventh against Northern before settling for a 6-1 win. He didn’t want the Knights to get off the hook Friday.
“I wanted to stay in, but I told coach (Woodell) that if I walk someone, then it’s about time for him to take me out,” Hoffman said. “But I didn’t walk anyone after that.”