North Lincoln solidified its hold on second place in the Southern Foothills 1A Conference baseball race Tuesday with a pair of wins over Maiden at home.
In a suspended game that resumed in the sixth inning, North Lincoln used a five-run top of the seventh to finish off the Blue Devils 15-9.
That proved to be a warm-up for the regular game, which North Lincoln won 7-2 to extend its win streak to four and improve to 4-1 in the SF1A (5-9 overall).
North Lincoln and frontrunner Bessemer City are the only conference teams with one loss in league play.
While he could not match the pitching gem turned in by Josh Belk last Friday against Cherryville, Alex Loftin (2-1) pitched a solid game in getting the win.
The right-hander went six innings, scattering six hits while striking out five and walking one.
After fashioning the first pitching shutout in school history against the Ironmen, Belk changed roles and helped the Knights with his bat in the suspended game completion. He hit a two-run home run over the left field fence in the seventh inning to put the game out of Maiden`s reach.
In the regular game, the Knights made the most of five hits and took advantage of the control problems of Maiden pitchers Aaron Willliams and Andrew Goodson, who combined to walk 12 batters. Five of those baserunners came around to score.
Once on the basepaths, North Lincoln made a living on Maiden catcher Matt Koening, stealing successfully eight times. Loftin and Jeremy Grove each stole two bases.
DH Ryan Pendleton had a two-run double for North Lincoln in the fifth and a fielder`s choice RBI in the second. Kyle Baker reached base three times on walks and scored three runs.
Junior Devin Borders went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a single and a triple in the continuation game against Maiden. Loftin threw nine innings in the two-combined games.
The Knights play at Polk County at 7 p.m. in a key conference game, and Andrews is expected to give Belk the pitching start with four days resting counting the weekend.
On Thursday, North Lincoln plays county rival East Lincoln at the Corral.
After beginning the season 1-9, the Knights have won four in a row, surging to second in the Southern Foothillsâ€™ 1A Conference. So what has been the biggest reason for the turn-around?
â€œWeâ€™ve pulled together as a team and just gelled. We werenâ€™t hitting the ball as good as we are now. Everybody is seeing the ball better and hitting the ball better,â€ said sophomore Trent Hopkins, who has an 11-game hit streak after Tuesdayâ€™s win.
Another area that has seem marked improvement is on the mound.
â€œI think the main thing thatâ€™s gotten better is our pitching. In the beginning of the season, we were walking everybody and not making anybody earn any runs. Now, itâ€™s gotten a lot better and you can tell by the score,â€ Hopkins said.
The emergence of junior Kyle Baker along with senior Josh Belk have also aided in the Knightsâ€™ drastic reversal of fortunes.
In the past three games, Baker is batting .500 (4-for-8) upping hit total to 10 RBIs and has scored 13 runs. Belk has homered twice in the past five games and has seven RBIs on the season.
â€œKyle can be a kid that can just blend in during batting practice. When he gets in the batterâ€™s box, heâ€™s very serious. Him, Trent, Josh, Devin Alex and pretty much my starters are hitting the ball,â€
Devin Borders is batting .583 over his last three conference games with four RBIs.
Helping the pitching has been the Knightsâ€™ ability to turn double plays. Theyâ€™ve turned four double plays in the last two and a half games.
â€œJosh came out and pitched seven shut-out innings versus Cherryville. Weâ€™re not giving them free bases. If we do give up a walk or let them on an error, weâ€™re turning double plays,â€ Andrews said.
Senior second baseman Jeremy Grove has been a key member of Northâ€™s infield.
â€œJeremy Grove is playing an excellent second base for us. Heâ€™s turned three double plays for us in the last couple,â€ Andrews said.
Having struggled in their first 10 games has made the Knights appreciate their recent success even more.
â€œI didnâ€™t expect it (the turn-around) from the first part of the season, but weâ€™ve made an U-turn for the better. Iâ€™m always thankful and grateful to God for always blessing me,â€ Hopkins said.
Maiden 010 101 0â€”3 6 2
North Lincoln 013 120 xâ€”7 5 0
Williams, Goodson (3) and Koening. Loftin, Price (7) and Borders. Wâ€”Loftin (2-1). Lâ€”Williams.
Lincoln Times-News Staff Writer John Mark Brooks contributed to this story
Junior Josh Belk has homered twice in the past five games for the Knights. Belk homered Tuesday. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
by Mike Powell