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Lady Knights advance to 1A Softball Final Four

The odds were stacked against the North Lincoln Lady Knights playing the Maiden Lady Blue Devils, but odds don’t decide the outcome.
The Lady Knights behind Nicole Baxter’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 fielder’s choice scored Snider for either teams’ first run of the game.
Leah Maurer’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.
North’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. Maiden’s catcher on an attempted intentional walk to Torbert stepped out of the catcher’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 Knights’ 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 Devils’ cause.
Lady Knights’ head coach Rick Brown was thrilled after the game. and put the win in perspective.
“To my knowledge, it’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 it’s given these girls for next year,” 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.
“She’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 we’ve had two errors in the last three games,” he said.
Baxter, perhaps her toughest critic, was not pleased with her performance. Rather crediting her teammates.
“I wasn’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,” 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 game’s time still undecided.
Brown believes the Lady Knights have a legitimate shot if they can continue their high level of play.
“They’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 they’ve had the last three games,” he said.
“I’m just really glad we got to go to the final four. When we first started out we were like, ‘I think we can make it to the playoffs,’ but nobody expected us to get this far, so I’m just really happy we made it,” 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

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