The North Lincoln Knights softball team canâ€™t help but to think of the future. Beginning the season 6-0, despite being saddled with large expectations, tends to do that.
A year after finishing third in the state in 1A Softball, the Lady Knights are poised for what appears to be a very special season. Ask any of the teamâ€™s leaders and they will tell you, a third place finish wonâ€™t be accepted as this yearâ€™s outcome.
The masterminds behind the softball program is head coach Rick Brown and assistant coach Melanie Painter. So how much has last yearâ€™s state tournament helped beginning this year?
“The experience (of last year) right now is our biggest asset. The experience of some of the new girls that have joined the team– especially the transfers that have come in with a couple of years of experience from
other schools has also really helped us,” Brown said.
Former East Lincoln players: senior Nicole Hall and Courtney Feldon have bolstered an already strong roster.
“They give us more depth and they are both two of my top hitters. It will give us an advantage over what we had last year,” Brown said.
Another player that has been an early season standout, turning in several defensive gems, is senior shortstop Lindsey Smith.
“She`s my star shortstop and is hitting the ball much better than last year. That`s really helped us a lot,” Brown said.
The Lady Knightsâ€™ offense is sparked by sophomore leadoff hitter McKenzie Harkey. While she gets things going at the plate, she also is a key cog in North Lincolnâ€™s infield.
â€œShe`s a good solid leadoff hitter and pretty much plays flawless third base,” Brown said.
When looking for power, the Lady Knights need not look further than catcher Jenna Torbert. While her offense output is important, in a recurring theme for the Knights, she also is key to the teamâ€™s defense.
“Jenna directs the traffic in the infield. She`s just a strong hitter and very rarely strikes out,” Brown said.
A good softball team is always propelled by a stellar pitcher. Junior Nicole Baxter, who has two career no-hitters, fits that bill. On the season she has a 5-0 record with a 1.5 ERA.
Brown believes her biggest impact on the other girls is her leadership ability.
“She`s a get you fired-up type of a leader. She`s always trying to keep the girls pumped up,” he said.
Another player making her presence known is sophomore right fielder April Wilson. Wilson, who was a relief pitcher last year, has been solid at the plate and in the field. Brown has been happy with her growth.
A pleasant surprise for Brown has been five freshmen, who have already earned playing time. Amanda Snyder, Amanda Leonard, Kayla Alexander, Kim Shoemaker and Taylor Ewing all have exceeded freshmen expectations with their play according to the coach.
As they say, â€˜The proof is in the pudding.â€™ With that being the case, the Knights are better than last year, but how much? The team batting average is currently .350, which is 100 points higher than last season. Their on-base average is also 100 points higher at .450.
“Right now our top five hitters are the first five in the lineup. We`re much stronger than last year in
that part of lineup,” Brown said.
So what does Brown think of the huge expectations and widespread team belief theyâ€™re going to win it all?
“As long as this team stays focused, plays up to their ability- we have a chance to being better overall than last year.â€
On Thursday, the Knights will visit perennial softball power Cherryville and as Brown said, â€˜It won`t be the most important game of the season, but it will be to-date.`
The Lady Knights beat Bessemer City 6-2.
Nicole Baxter pitched six and two thirds, allowing only three hits, while striking out seven. Nicole Hall recorded the last out to earn the save.
Courtney Feldon jumpstarted the team in the bottom of the second with a two-RBI double. Torbert, who had previously doubled, had a RBI, as well as McKenzie Harkey. Baxter tripled in the fourth inning.
by John Mark Brooks