The Northern Guilford Nighthawks got another dominant pitching performance from John Clark Ouzts on Friday night as they overcame adversity to beat Northwood and advance to the East Regional in the NCHSAA 3-A baseball playoffs.
The Nighthawks played from behind for nearly the entire game. Ouzts allowed two runs as Northwood jumped in front early and took the wind from the Nighthawks, who trailed 2-0 after just half an inning.
The early innings gave the home team trouble as they tried to battle back from the deficit. Northern got men on base but couldn’t find the a way to drive the runners in, stranding the bases loaded twice in the first three innings.
Northwood capitalized on a leadoff walk in the top of the fourth inning when Jake McNeil drove an RBI triple to right-center field and put his team in front by what looked to be a dominant three runs.
The Nighthawks finally pushed across the first run of their comeback in the bottom of the fourth. Josh Pike’s RBI single drove in Evan Mericka and made the score 3-1.
The later innings of the game turned into the JC Ouzts show. The senior buckled down after allowing the third run and struck out eight of his final 13 in the next 12 outs.
Northern’s bats lit up the Summerfield sky and white jerseys streaked through the night as the team pounded out the hits they couldn’t find early to tie the game in the fifth and take the lead in the sixth, propelling them to victory.
Bryant Carrey drove in the second of Northern’s runs in the fifth, followed by Matthew Cotter pounding a 3RBI double to left field in the sixth to deliver the runs the Nighthawks needed to win the game.
Ouzts made quick work of Northwood in the top of the seventh and Northern sailed to their first baseball Regional-berth in school history.
The #1-seed Nighthawks (27-3) will open the best-of-three series at home against Hampstead Topsail on Tuesday.
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NORTHERN GUILFORD LEADERS:
John Clark Ouzts: CG, 3H, 3R, 2ER, 3BB, 13K
Matthew Cotter: (1-4) 2B, 3RBI
Evan Mericka: (2-3) RBI, 2R, SB
Brandon Bledsoe: (1-2) 2R
Troy Minor: (2-4) R
Josh Pike: (1-3) RBI
Bryant Carrey: (2-4)