The odds were stacked against the North Lincoln Lady Knights playing the Maiden Lady Blue Devils, but odds donâ€™t decide the outcome.
The Lady Knights behind Nicole Baxterâ€™s right arm and execution at the plate by Debbie Jackson and Jenna Torbert beat the Lady Blue Devils 7-2 in the third round of the 1A State Playoffs advancing to the final four in the state.
The Lady Blue Devils jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning.
Amanda Snider singled, then Randi Pruitt doubled. A Lindsay Canipe fielderâ€™s choice scored Snider for either teamsâ€™ first run of the game.
Leah Maurerâ€™s RBI-single scored Leslie Herman, who was running for catcher Pruitt, for their second run of the contest.
In the top of the third, a Mackenzie Harkey groundout scored Meredith Towery. Carolyn Weaver who reached via an error scored on a throwing error allowing the Knights to take a narrow 3-2 lead.
Northâ€™s first run of the contest came on a Donia McDonald groundout. April Wilson singled in the fourth inning. An error advanced her to second base, then she stole third base. Calah Bynum played the role of opportunist with a sacrifice fly RBI to left field making the score 4-2.
The Lady Knights took a comfortable lead in the top of the fifth inning. After a Jackson single and Lindsey Smith sacrifice, Torbert connected to left-center for a RBI-double which scored Jackson. A passed ball advanced Torbert to third. Wilson took advantage on a groundout which scored Torbert to put them ahead 6-2.
In the top of the seventh, Harkey walked and Jackson singled. A Smith groundout advanced them to second and third. That brought the strangest play of the ballgame. Maidenâ€™s catcher on an attempted intentional walk to Torbert stepped out of the catcherâ€™s box before pitcher Lindsay Canipe had released the ball.
The rule is that all base runners advance allowing Harkey to score for the Lady Knightsâ€™ seventh run of the game.
Baxter held the Lady Blue Devils at bay after the third inning allowing no hits the rest of the way. The sophomore pitcher threw a complete game, striking out four batters and only allowing four hits picking up the victory.
Canipe fought valiantly pitching a complete game striking out three batters and allowing only five hits. However, her defense committed three errors which did not help the Lady Blue Devilsâ€™ cause.
Lady Knightsâ€™ head coach Rick Brown was thrilled after the game. and put the win in perspective.
â€œTo my knowledge, itâ€™s (advancing to the final four) only happened one other time with a first year school. The biggest plus is the confidence and the experience itâ€™s given these girls for next year,â€ he said.
Brown was very impressed with the effort he received from Nicole Baxter who has only given up two runs in the 1A Playoffs.
â€œSheâ€™s steadily improved through the whole season. The last three games the biggest improvement is not walking four or five girls a game. Our defense has really come together weâ€™ve had two errors in the last three games,â€ he said.
Baxter, perhaps her toughest critic, was not pleased with her performance. Rather crediting her teammates.
â€œI wasnâ€™t pitching my best game, whenever pitching is down the other two (offense and defense) need to be up and they were, so it just really helped,â€ she said.
The third-round victory gives the Knights a ticket to Walnut Creek in Raleigh for a double elimination tournament and a chance for the state crown.
The Knights first round opponent will be North Moore with the gameâ€™s time still undecided.
Brown believes the Lady Knights have a legitimate shot if they can continue their high level of play.
â€œTheyâ€™re (my team) going to have to play at the top of their game, as flawless as they did against Cherryville. They have to continue playing as a team at the confidence level theyâ€™ve had the last three games,â€ he said.
â€œIâ€™m just really glad we got to go to the final four. When we first started out we were like, â€˜I think we can make it to the playoffs,â€™ but nobody expected us to get this far, so Iâ€™m just really happy we made it,â€ Baxter said.
Leading hitters for the Lady Knights were: Jackson who went 2-for-4 with one run, Torbert who was 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs and Harkey and Bynum with a RBI apiece. Wilson went 1-for-4 with a RBI and run scored.
North Lincoln will join North Brunswick, North Moore and Camden County to decide the 1A State Champions.
by John Mark Brooks