It was a memorable, milestone achievement for the North Lincoln Lady Knights softball team. The first year school finished third in the state with a victory over Camden County in the double elimination tournament.
By doing so, the Lady Knights joined the 2004 golf team as top state finishers. The golf team finished fourth in 1A competition in the state.
Running into North Moore Lady Mustangs, 29-1 entering the weekend, was too tall of an order for the youthful Knights. North was competitive at times and showed heart despite facing one of the 1A softball Goliaths. In Sundayâ€™s loserâ€™s bracket, to see who advanced to play North Brunswick, the Lady Knights fell 5-0 to the Lady Mustangs.
Despite being shutout it was a significantly better performance for North Lincoln than Saturdayâ€™s opening game where they were defeated 12-1 by North Moore in five innings.
Sophomore pitcher Nicole Baxter compiled a 1-2 record on the weekend, while striking out 19 batters. Thomas Babb / For the LTN
On Sunday at the Walnut Creek softball complex, Sophomore Nicole Baxter pitched a complete game, allowing two earned runs and striking out six batters in the losing cause, while her counterpart Heidi McNeill pitched six innings earning the victory.
McNeill surrendered only three hits to the Lady Knights in the shutout. Meredith Towery, Donia McDonald and April Wilson were responsible for those.
In the top of the fourth inning, freshman rightfielder Wilson threw out Bailey Garner who was trying to stretch a single into a two-bagger for the second out of the inning. The play was big, not allowing Garner to get into scoring position.
Unfortunately for the Lady Knights, the next batter, Kristin Brown, doubled. Emily Brewer then connected to right center in the gap to score Brown. The Lady Mustangs took a 2-0 lead when Megan McNeill reached on an error plating Brewer.
In the bottom of the fourth inning the Lady Knights had their own opportunity to put some runs on the board. After freshman Jenna Torbert walked, Wilson got an infield base hit. Donia McDonald flew out for the second out of the inning. Calah Bynum hit a shot back up the middle that the pitcher, McNeill, handled cleanly, but a high throw allowed Torbert to slide in safe.
With the bases loaded, down by two runs, the next batter also hit the ball up the middle and was thrown out by McNeill to end the Lady Knightsâ€™ threat.
In the top of the fifth, after Bianca Alsobrook singled and Kelly Goforth reached on an error, Ashley Marley played the role of opportunist. Marley reached on a fielderâ€™s choice. That coupled with several mental mistakes by the Lady Knights allowed Alsobrook and Goforth to score making the lead 4-0.
Two more errors by the Lady Knights led to another run in the top of the seventh. North Lincoln left five girls in scoring position in the game.
Knightsâ€™ head coach Rick Brown believed that mental mistakes was the main cause of their elimination.
â€œBetween a few pitches that werenâ€™t thrown as called and a few mistakes, we allowed North Moore to take advantage and score some runs,â€ he said.
The win advanced the Lady Mustangs into the championship round for the third year in a row. Brown felt that experience served in an invaluable way.
â€œBeen there and done that attitude. They knew what to expect and what it would take to get the job done.â€
North Lincolnâ€™s Nicole Baxter and Camden Countyâ€™s Jessica Sanders were locked in a classic pitching showdown. Both pitched complete games and struck out 11 batters. The only difference was Baxter and her teammates earned a miraculous 4-3 comeback win in the ninth inning.
With both pitchers in the zone, the Lady Knights and the Lady Bruins found themselves in a 0-0 game for seven innings.
Courtney Williams in the top of the eight, laced a single that scored Amanda Armstrong who had reached via an error. Sanders helped out her own cause, blasting a ball to deep left-field which scored Williams, who had stolen third. Livia Baker hit a shot to right that scored Sanders.
When the damage was done the Lady Bruins had scored three runs to take what looked like an insurmountable lead. But the Lady Knights had other plans.
Meredith Towery reached on an error, then Carolyn Weaver and Mekenzie Harkey struck out to put the North Lincoln within one out of elimination with Debbie Jackson coming to bat.
Jackson, demonstrated her teamâ€™s resilient spirit, fouling off eight consecutive pitches before connecting up the middle, advancing Towery to second. Lindsey Smith, whoâ€™s been in somewhat of a slump, lately delivered.
Smith crushed the Sandersâ€™ offering over left-fielder Kari Meiggsâ€™ head scoring both Towery and Jackson bringing North within one 3-2.
â€œIt was pretty awesome and got everybody pumped up. After that, we came back and won,â€ Smith said of her two-RBI double.
Torbert, the Lady Knights best hitter, was up next but Camden decided to walk her. Sanders threw the ball to first seeing Torbert with a big lead. On the throw, Smith advanced to third.
Freshman utility player, whoâ€™s been primarily used as a pitcher, April Wilson was up next. Wilson played the role of hero stroking a ball up the middle that scored Smith knotting the game at 3-3.
â€œMy teeth were tingling because I wanted to hit it so bad. I just stood there for a second. I couldnâ€™t believe the girl missed it,â€ Wilson said.
â€œShe definitely took advantage of taking care of her job when I put her in,â€ head coach Rick Brown said.
Baxter retired the Lady Bruins with ease in the top half of the ninth inning. In the bottom of the ninth, back-to-back walks by Calah Bynum and Towery placed Weaver at the plate.
Weaver grounded out, but advanced Towery to second. Harkey grounded out putting the game-winning run on third. Jackson hit the ball to shortstop Livia Baker who booted the ball and allowed Towery to score.
Brown was thrilled for his girls and impressed by their incredible comeback.
â€œThey always hung in there and thought they could win the gameâ€”no matter what the score was,â€ he said.
â€œItâ€™s one of the top wins weâ€™ve had. I donâ€™t think weâ€™ve ever come back from three runs down before,â€ Brown said.
â€œWe believed and we didnâ€™t give up and itâ€™s something Iâ€™ll remember the rest of my life,â€ said Smith, who had one of the pivotal hits for the Lady Knights.
Leading hitters for the Lady Knights were: Chelsea Harrill 1-for-1, April Wilson 2-for-7, Jenna Torbert 2-for-8, Calah Bynum 1-for-7 and Lindsey Smith 2-for-11.
Bynum turned in a solid play in left in the Camden County game. She made a lunging catch and threw to first to double-up the runner.
Towery made several excellent plays at shortstop, while Wilson demonstrated great range in right.
Torbert made a diving catch in the Camden game on a foul tip from her catcherâ€™s position.
Harrill lunged to snag the ball at first base just before it hit the ground for the out. by John Mark Brooks