The North Lincoln Knights were 0-4 headed into Fridayâ€™s home contest versus chief rival the East Lincoln Mustangs.
The Mustangs were riding high, coming off a regular season sweep of West Lincoln. With Mitchell Lynch, 3-0 entering Fridayâ€™s game, it had all the makings of being lopsided.
Thanks to a strong pitching performance from T.J. Skidmore and timely hitting, the Knights reversed their early-season fortune with a 4-1 win.
In the bottom of the fifth, Josh Belk found the gap in left-center to score Ryan Pendleton, who had reached on a fielderâ€™s choice. The hit gave North Lincoln an insurance run, putting them up 2-0.
The next batter Devin Borders lined one into center plating Belk for a 3-0 advantage. Courtesy runner Chad Saunders would score giving North a 4-0 lead.
The whole game it seemed East Lincoln was poised for a breakout inning, but Skidmore never let it materialize. The right-handed sophomore struck out seven batters, allowed no earned runs and only surrendered two hits in six innings of work for the win.
â€œThe first couple of innings, they couldnâ€™t hit my fastball. I kept on throwing it. It started getting pretty cold out here during the fourth inning, my arm got a little tired, but my defense backed me up,â€ Skidmore said.
Trailing 1-0, a wild pitch gave East Lincoln men on second and third with no out, but Skidmore did not panic. Instead, he responded by striking out the side. He gave an assist to his coach after the game.
Knightsâ€™ head coach Sean Andrews gave him a booklet before the game stressing the importance of being mentally tough. The pitcher said it came in handy in the fourth and fifth innings.
â€œIt was pretty scary to tell you the truth: bases loaded and weâ€™re up 1-0 with no outs, but Iâ€™m just glad my defense backed me up and got through it,â€ he said.
In the top of the fifth inning the Knightsâ€™ defense turned in three sensational plays. Third baseman Belk made a diving stab, then tagged out Russell Mahaffey at third for the first out.
Shortstop Alex Loftin dove to his right fully-extended and reeled in a Trent Hovis fly ball. Perhaps, the most spectacular play of the inning was the most ordinary one.
After Jesse Cadenhead walked to load the bases, Corey Walton tracked down a high pop fly in right field to end the inning. On a normal day the play wouldnâ€™t have stood out, but on a day when wind gusts were up to 25 MPH it was quite a play.
The Mustangs showed a resilient spirit in the top of the seventh. Reliever Alex Loftin was greeted rudely by East. Mahaffey walked, then Jesse Guice reached on an error. Greyson Schramâ€™s fielderâ€™s choice loaded the bases with no outs.
With the game-winning run coming to the plate, Hovis scored Mahaffey with a RBI single, leaving the Mustangs down 4-1 with no outs.
Loftin got the next batter to ground into a rare 1-2-3 double play. He then recorded the save by striking out Bradley Morris, who had one of the Mustangsâ€™ three hits on the day.
Loftin drew upon the movie, For the Love of the Game for inspiration when the Mustangs loaded the bases in the top of the seventh.
â€œI just tried to do the best I could and get the out. You gotta clear the mechanism, try not to think about it,â€ he said.
Lynch, who has been spectacular at times this season, struggled with his control walking eight batters. He did strike out three. Junior Nick Harmon had a solid relief outing working one inning and a third, striking out two.
Trent Hopkins paced the Knights with a 2-for-3 day at the plate. Belk and Borders both had RBIs. Michael Gibson, Loftin and Pendleton walked twice. Gibson also had two stolen bases, Pendleton had a RBI.
Hovis went 1-for-4 with a RBI. T.J. Chapman and Morris also recorded a hit. Guice and Mahaffey walked twice apiece.
â€œWe came out, got on top of them and just kept them down. T.J. pitched a heck of a game. He had the confidence going out there and I had the confidence in him. He had a few too many walks, but he made the pitches got a lot of groundballs and our fielders made the plays today,â€ Andrews said.
With four straight losses to start the season, Andrews received some advice from friend Allan Chapman (head coach of West Lincoln), telling Andrews to somehow break up the monotony.
â€œWeâ€™re starting to gel. The guys got together last night (Thursday) and hung out. Today, came out, and tried to make it fun with the ball-less infield/outfield,â€ he said.
The Knights were elated they beat their county rival, but more than anything they were just pleased to get their first win.
â€œItâ€™s just another baseball game. I just think itâ€™s good that we came out played as a team and finally got a win. Starting off 0-4, we needed that big win with conference starting off next week,â€ Belk said.
East Lincoln 000 000 1â€”1 3 2
North Lincoln 100 030 xâ€”4 4 1
Freshman leadoff hitter Jesse Guice swings the bat during Fridayâ€™s game. Guice walked twice during the game. His speed and knack for getting on base have impressed in the early going for the 4-3 Mustangs. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
by John Mark Brooks