Hough High advances to N.C. 4A baseball title series
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – Love the glove.
Hough High’s baseball team doesn’t rattle the fences with a string of power hitters or routinely strike out dozens of opposing batters. But the Huskies catch and throw the ball quite well.
It’s not the glitziest characteristic of a great team, but it is vital. Hough’s nearly airtight defense, along with deep pitching, have propelled the Huskies to the state final.
Hough (23-10) will play Apex Middle Creek (24-7) in the N.C. 4A championship series this weekend at Durham Athletic Park.
Game 1 in the best-of-3 series will begin at 8 p.m. Friday. Game 2 will be 2 p.m. Saturday, and a third game, if necessary, would be at 5 or 8 p.m. Saturday, depending on the 1A championship schedule also being played in Durham.
Hough coach Jimmy Cochran immediately mentioned defense as a key to the Huskies’ success.
“We’ve had one error in the postseason (six games),” he said. “We play defense well. We’re throwing the ball extremely well. It seems like it doesn’t matter who we run out there (to pitch). They give us a chance to win. Offensively, we have that knack of getting that two-out hit when we need it. We don’t do it a lot, but we get it when it counts.
“Anytime we have a guy come up in that situation, one through nine (in the batting order), I have confidence. Everybody has contributed.”
Hough has a knack for winning close games. The first three playoff games were all one-run decisions – 2-1 against Porter Ridge, 2-1 against Mooresville and 3-2 against South Caldwell. The Huskies beat Mallard Creek 4-2, and swept the regional series against East Forsyth by 2-1 and 4-1 scores.
“Our biggest asset is probably defense,” catcher Nick Daddio said. “We have phenomenal defense and our pitching’s always been good. If we’re not hitting some games, we’re still in the game.”
Cochran credits the leadership and camaraderie of the team’s nine seniors – infielder Jacob Buchanan, second baseman Jared Sobo, center fielder Will Champion, pitcher Spencer Venator, shortstop Eric Siler, first baseman Johnny Piedmonte, designated hitter A.J. Girting, outfielder Nick Bernado and Daddio.
It took time for them to gel as juniors on last year’s inaugural Hough team, a process that can’t be sped up on a new squad. That togetherness is paying huge dividends, this season.
“They genuinely don’t care who the hero is,” Cochran said. “They support each other on and off the field. They hang out outside of baseball and are legitimate friends outside of the game.
“Those nine seniors have been that catalyst for leadership all year long. They don’t get rattled. We as a coaching staff, especially last year, put pressure on them to perform daily in practice. We’d tell them Practice is our (coaches’) time and games are your time.’ They’ve relaxed and gone out there and played a little bit. Our underclassmen have followed the lead of those nine seniors.”
Brandon Gragilla, Zach Moore and Venator have pitched well, and each has a playoff victory.