By Brian Paglia
It's customary in the upper echelons of sports to blame formidable schedules on nebulous "schedule-makers." Not so in high school. On days like today, when North Clayton anticipated an 11 a.m. first-pitch against Ola and a 5:30 p.m. game at Alcovy, there is no where to look but Eagles coach Doug Henry.
His intentions were simple. Spring break begins after today for North Clayton (6-8, 2-6 Region 4-AAAA), which gets an April respite from the diamond until Monday, April 12. Two games in one day, and his players could get the most out of their vacation.
But, oh, those two games. The first against the Mustangs, reigning region champs, No. 2-ranked team in Class AAAA. An afternoon sojourn and then hello, Alcovy, budding juggernaut, the No. 5-ranked team. North Clayton was looking at 24 victories, strong arms, powerful bats and a long day.
"I mean, I don't care who we play," Henry said.
North Clayton stumbled into some respite from its daunting day, though in the most tragic of circumstances. A North Clayton student passed recently, a young woman many on the baseball team knew, so the morning game was postponed.
Instead, the Eagles play just Alcovy, at 5:30 p.m., at the Tigers' field in Covington.
But North Clayton won't be intimidated, despite suffering its fourth straight loss, 12-2 in six innings, to Dutchtown on Monday; despite more errors (5) than hits (4); despite passed balls and wild pitches.
Indeed, for some inexplicable reason, Henry said, the Eagles relish the chance to compete against the highest quality of teams, like Alcovy and Ola. In fact, the Eagles played both teams back-to-back before, on March 17 and 19, and made a compelling game of each encounter. They lost 4-1 to Alcovy, then 3-0 to Ola.
"They step up for games like that," Henry said. "It's totally opposite."
Henry meant his team performs in contrast to how it did against Dutchtown. The Bulldogs have won four in a row, scoring at least 12 runs three times during their winning streak, and there in lies the primary ailment of North Clayton: hitting.
"That's been the problem all year," Henry said. "From the 2-0 games, to the 4-0 games, to the 10-0 games, it's been about hitting. I found out that at one point we had one hit in three games. It's been hitting, or lack of."
During the team-wide slump, frustration naturally set in, Henry said. But there are signs the Eagles' bats can come alive.
"Lately they've been hitting, they've just been hitting it right at people," Henry said. "At least they're making contact, which is a better sign."