North Raleigh Christian pitcher Sidney Shepheard has a habit of trying to do it all. On a team that includes just four upperclassmen, the sophomore stands out as a leader, but Knights coach Jon Mitchell knows Shepheard plays her best ball and is most effective for the team when she is relaxed.
“Sidney’s my one player that plays year-round. ... Sidney is my ‘eat, sleep, breathe’ player,” Mitchell said. “She’s also in a key spot where she tends to take the whole thing on herself. We talked just in the last couple days about letting her fulfill her role the best she can and let the team back her up. ... That’s what we saw today. She got ahead of almost every batter today, and putting her in that second slot behind Machaela (Twiss), who’s got speed and can hit the ball, she relaxed more at the plate and she’s just having fun now, which I love.”
Shepheard gave herself and the Knights some breathing room early on Tuesday. She set the tone for the 13-3 win in six innings over Triangle Independent Schools Athletic Conference foe Wake Christian by knocking her first of two home runs out of the park in her first at-bat.
Shepheard went 4-for-5 at the plate and struck out nine Bulldogs batters in the outing. NRCA captains sophomore Amy Brosnahan and senior Katy Cook each finished with three hits, including a Brosnahan two-run home run in the fifth inning moments after Shepheard’s second home run.
“It made it a lot better knowing that it was a team effort,” Shepheard said of the win.
Wake Christian responded in the third, scoring two runs on an Avery Mann double to cut the score to 4-2, but couldn’t keep up with the Knights’ bats.
“I expected more from our team,” Wake Christian coach Brad Pierce said. “We knew they were a good hitting team. We knew their pitcher was good and could throw strikes, but I was just expecting a little more want and desire from our team. Nothing to take away from them though. They played a great game.”
North Raleigh has taken a steep learning curve, winning seven of its last nine games after starting the season with two losses.
“We started with trying a lot of things (in the beginning of the season) because we’re so young,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got two eighth-graders and four ninth-graders, and they’re starting ... so giving them an opportunity to find roles is what we did early. They are very young, but they play confidently together, so they don’t show their age, which I love.”
The win was a big one for the Knights after falling 7-6 to Cary Academy a week earlier.
“(Wake Christian) is quality team,” Mitchell said. “That is not a team you expect to beat with that score. ... but we played this game. We let Friday go. We played this game knowing that if we wanted to stay in the conference hunt, we needed this game because that’s a quality team. We’ll worry about Cary Academy next week.
“We really went into this year thinking let’s grow let’s see what we can do. Let’s be competitive. We really didn’t have lofty goals as in playoffs or conference. We wanted to be competitive from the start. We’ve since readjusted our goals. We’re looking for a conference title.”
NRCA travels to TISAC leader Cary Academy on April 15.