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Rice sparks Knights past Wesleyan

North Davidson's E.P. Reese drives in a run with a groundout during the Black Knights' 4-2 win over Wesleyan Christian on Tuesday in Welcome. (Photo by Mike Duprez/The Dispatch)

WELCOME | C.J. Rice, his back ailing, was watching from the dugout as North Davidson coach Mike Meadows told him to start swinging the bat, that he just might be needed as a pinch hitter.

It turned out that Rice’s services were required and he smashed a two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning, lifting the undefeated Knights to a rousing come-from-behind 4-2 win over independent school power Wesleyan Christian on Monday.

After uncharacteristically missing the playoffs last year, North is now 3-0.

“It’s a big win,” Rice said. “Three in a row for us. It’s a lot better than last year. We’ve got intensity this year. We just have that drive. I love it. I love these guys. They’re awesome.”

The Knights were trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth when their three-run uprising started off innocently enough on Wes Little’s drag bunt single. Little made it all the way to second on Wesleyan third baseman Jared Bruce’s errant throw to first. Drew Beaver, who was 2-for-2, was given an intentional walk by Wesleyan pitcher Johnny Rollins. Chase Mitchell sacrificed the runners to second and third and Rollins issued another intentional walk, this time to Andrew Mayton, to load the bases. E.P. Reese, who knocked in the other two runs for North, slapped a fielder’s choice grounder up the middle to score Little with the tying run.

Moments later, Reese stole second.

That set the stage for Rice, who was summoned to bat for relief pitcher Max Royal. Rice had been taking some practice swings in the team’s indoor practice facility under the supervision of junior varsity coach Chris Sotriffer.

On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Rice hammered a line drive double to left center as Beaver and Reese both easily scored. Tanner Woollen came in as a pinch runner for Rice, who was mobbed by his teammates when he returned to the dugout.

“At about the third or fourth inning, coach told me to start swinging a bat,” Rice said. “I hadn’t hit all day. I’m dealing with this back injury. So I went to the building and took some hacks. Fortunately, coach Sot was in there. I got warm in the building.”

And hot at the plate despite the chilly, misty weather.

“With two strikes you’ve got to get the bat on the ball a little bit,” Rice said. “He kept throwing me away, away. Then he finally threw one down the middle and I hit it.”

There was still the matter of retiring the Trojans in the top of the seventh and for that Meadows turned to Bailey Garfield and his submarine delivery. The Trojans’ Ben Bailiff drew a leadoff walk but then Garfield induced three straight groundouts to end the game as Meadows pumped his right fist.

“They’re a quality team, so it’s a good win for us,” Meadows said. “It’s not going to be like this every night but so far, so good.”

There was plenty for Meadows to like.

Josh Roberson, Royal and Garfield combined on a five-hitter against a heavy-hitting team. Both of the runs and three of the hits, including an RBI single by pro prospect Weston Wilson, came in the first inning, after which Roberson settled down. Catcher Eric Morrow was also instrumental in snuffing out a Wesleyan threat in the fifth.

“We’re finally starting to realize our roles a little bit,” Meadows said. “C.J. got a big hit and he’s been fighting back problems. Wes Little got a huge drag bunt single and that wasn’t a part of his game last year. I think he’s finally learning how valuable that is.”

North started its comeback in the bottom of the fourth. Beaver and Mitchell started it off with consecutive singles. The runners tagged up on Mayton’s deep fly to center and Beaver scored on Reese’s grounder, cutting Wesleyan’s lead to 2-1.

With one out in the top of the fifth, Wesleyan’s Hayden Manuel singled but was gunned down by Morrow trying to steal second. That loomed big, especially after Greg White pounded a double off Reese’s glove in deep center. With first base open, Wilson was given an intentional walk. Morrow then threw behind Wilson, who was caught in a rundown and tagged out to end the inning.

Royal, who was credited with the win, relieved Roberson in the top of the sixth and got in immediate trouble thanks to a walk, errant pickoff throw and wild pitch. But with a runner on third and no one out, Royal got Wesleyan slugger Zach Michalski to ground out to third baseman Preston Blake, forcing the runner to hold. Royal then struck out Jake Moebius and Ryan Clinch to end the inning and keep it a 2-1 game.

North is scheduled to host Watauga at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Wesleyan is 0-1.

Mike Duprez can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 218 or