Elijah Wingate plays many roles on the baseball diamond.
On the field, he plays first base and also acts as the third-base coach. In the dugout, he’s the manager of North Carroll, who made its return to the South Penn League this year after folding because of a lack of interest.
A young nucleus has reformed the Panthers and Wingate doubles as a player-coach, being the seasoned veteran among the group.
“It’s definitely taking its toll but it’s been a little refreshing having all the new guys this year,” Wingate said. “Pretty much everybody except for two or three guys is new this year.”
North Carroll has endured struggles this season and came into Thursday night’s matchup against league-leading New Oxford with a 3-16 record.
But despite jumping out to an early 3-0 lead in the first inning, the Panthers’ eoffense went stagnant the rest of the way as they fell 5-3.
“I thought we played well today,” Wingate said. “They came out and competed. It’s unfortunately been our M.O. to score in the first or second innings and then never score again … but we did have some opportunities, they just didn’t come through at the right times.”
After starting pitcher Jimmy Thompson retired three of the first four New Oxford batters, he got an early bulk of run support. Trevor Boring and Connor Risner reached base safely to begin the inning, setting up the perfect opportunity for Wingate.
He delivered the first run on the board with an RBI single. Ryan Gerber and Steven Meyers tacked on back-to-back RBIs of their own to follow, giving North Carroll a commanding 3-0 advantage.
Kevin McManama answered for first-place New Oxford (20-3-1) with an RBI single one half-inning later, but North Carroll’s defense was stout over the course of five innings and Wingate snagged a popup in foul territory against the right-field fence.
The play caught Alex Emlet off-guard at first base, allowing Wingate to force the double play, ending the inning with a huge confidence boost for North Carroll as it entered the dugout.
“I wasn’t sure,” said Wingate on whether or not he knew he was going to make the catch. “I figured I’d take a shot at it and get up there. It worked out well.”
Both sides went stale offensively through the next three innings in a pitcher’s duel between Thompson and Conrad Miller. But RBI singles from Larry Baumgardner and McManama in the sixth inning, followed by the same from Mitch Collins and McManama again, proved to be the lethal knockout blow, holding a 5-3 lead.
“We left some guys in scoring position, which unfortunately has been the year,” said Wingate. “That’s been this year, not coming through with that clutch hit and I think that comes along with age.”
Wingate said there’s been a learning curve with a team primarily made of 19- and 20-year-olds, but expressed positivity in their progression.
“It’s definitely been a learning curve, especially for the young guys,” he said. “But over the last couple of games, I can definitely see … they’re making strides and definitely becoming more confident.”
Despite the loss, North Carroll has eight more regular-season games left to play and every team in the South Penn League makes the postseason.
From there, anything can happen.
“Just trying to find a roll,” Wingate said. “We can take tonight, build into the weekend, keep building and get hot.”