Nicole Baxter pitched a complete game three-hitter against the Lady Ironmen in the 5-0 victory. Baxter allowed no walks and struck out nine in the process.
North Lincolnâ€™s Donia McDonald slides into second as Lady Ironman Abby Walls throws to first in the second inning of Tuesdayâ€™s second round of the 1A State Softball Playoffs. The Lady Ironmen had beaten the Lady Knights in two consecutive games before Tuesdayâ€™s game. Jenny Walling / LTN Photo
Having lost to the Cherryville Lady Ironmen twice before, North Lincoln refused to let it happen for the third consecutive time.
On the strength of Nicole Baxterâ€™s right arm, the Lady Knights were dominant, winning 5-0 in the second round of the 1A State Softball Playoffs on Tuesday at Cherryville.
Baxter, although the catalyst, received plenty of help from her teammatesâ€™ bats. The Lady Knights racked up eight hits in the contest.
The biggest hit was a Jenna Torbert two-run homerun to left field after Lindsey Smith reached on a fielderâ€™s choice, making the score 2-0 North Lincoln in the first inning.
â€œIt feels really good, I got her done,â€ Torbert said of her playoff homer.
â€œIt was awesome. It was a boost of confidence. Weâ€™re already up ahead two in the first inning, itâ€™s like, yes,â€ said Baxter.
The boost of confidence allowed Baxter to retire 16 batters in a row at one point. For the game she struck out nine, while only relinquishing three hits.
A Donia McDonald fielderâ€™s choice scored Mckenzie Harkey. Calah Bynumâ€™s single to right scored Torbert to extend the Lady Knightsâ€™ lead to 5-0 in the top of the fifth inning.
A Harkey RBI-single made the score 3-0 in the top of the second inning.
North Lincolnâ€™s defense was stellar, committing no errors in the ball game. The highlight of their solid play came in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Left-fielder Bynum made a lunging catch, robbing Natalie Willis of a possible double in left center.
Baxter earned the victory and blew away her coach Rick Brown in the process.
â€œThis was her best game of the season. Itâ€™s even better than her no-hitter because she didnâ€™t put any on with walks. She actually had fewer strikeouts, but Iâ€™ll take that over walks,â€ he said.
The loss went to Angie Walls, who worked two full innings before being relieved by her sister Angie in the third.
Torbert led the Lady Knights going 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs, Harkey went 2-for-3 with a RBI and Bynum was 2-for-3 with a RBI.
Kayleigh Brown reached twice being hit by a pitch and walking.
Coach Brown believes the Lady Knights are playing their best softball of the season.
â€œWeâ€™ve put it all togetherâ€” peaking at the right time. Itâ€™s the best theyâ€™ve played all yearâ€¦ hopefully we can continue that a few more games,â€ he said.
Baxter, a sophomore, wasnâ€™t sure that the win was actually reality.
â€œIâ€™m so happy. I knew we could always do it and sometimes Iâ€™m sitting here thinking did we really beat them or am I just dreaming. Theyâ€™ve beat us twice and I wasnâ€™t going to let that happen again. The whole team had confidence and thatâ€™s really what helped us,â€ she said.
â€œWeâ€™ve come so far in our first year and Iâ€™m already excited for next year,â€ Torbert said.
First things first for the Lady Knights who will face the Maiden Lady Blue Devils in the third round of the 1A State Playoffs.
For now, however, the Knights will savor this victory.
â€œI didnâ€™t expect this, it was like wow, we can play that good. I knew that we could play good, but we never really put it all together. They played their hardest and we actually beat them. Theyâ€™re a great team and if we keep this up we can make it all the way,â€ Baxter said.
The loss eliminates the Lady Ironmen from the 1A State Playoffs after going 17-8 on the year.
North Lincoln raises their record to 18-6 on the year.
Brown believes the Cinderella story of the Lady Knights can continue against the Lady Blue Devils.
â€œWeâ€™ve played them three times and theyâ€™ve beaten us twice, so we know that we can beat them and if we play as well as we played today it should happen.â€
by John Mark Brooks