CHERRYVILLE–Nicole Baxter pitched a two-hitter and Jenna Torbert went 3-for-4 with two runs scored to lead North Lincoln to a 5-1 victory over Cherryville Thursday and the championship of the Southern Foothills 1A Conference softball tournament.
The Knights earned the title the hard way, beating No. 2 seed Maiden 9-2 in the semifinals and No. 1 seed Cherryville in the final. And North Lincoln won both games on the road against higher seeds.
The victory earned North Lincoln the No. 2 seed for the state 1A playoffs and a first-round home game next week.
Staked to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Baxter was in control throughout the game. She struck out six batters and allowed one ball to be hit out of the infield.
Cherryville had three baserunners in the game, two on hits and one on a hit batter. Baxter pitched all three tournament wins this week.
“Nicole really pitched well,” North Lincoln coach Rick Brown said. “We are at that point in the season where she has got to be in that kind of shape, to have that conditioning that she needs to carry us.”
After giving up a lead-off double by Meg Fraley in the bottom of the fifth, Baxter closed out Cherryville (16-5) by retiring nine in a row.
North Lincoln backed Baxter`s pitching with mistake-free defense. Senior shortstop Lindsey Smith handled six chances without an error, four of them on ground balls. And Baxter helped her own cause by hauling in a line shot back to the pitcher in the first inning.
The Knights got off to a fast start with two runs acorss in the first inning off Cherryville starter Caitlin Self. A walk to Courtney Feldon, a double to deep left field by Torbert and Kayla Alexander`s grounder got home the first run, and a dropped fly ball plated the second run.
Cherryville got within 2-1 in the second on Tracy Gardo`s RBI single, but that was the only inning the Ironmen had more than one baserunner.
The Knights went ahead 3-1 in the fifth on McKenzie Henry`s RBI groundout, then put the game away for sure with two runs in the top of the seventh. Torbert drove in one of those runs with a single to right, her third hit of the contest.
With the tournament title in tow, North Lincoln looks to make another run in the playoffs. Last year the Knights reached the final four of the playoffs.
Asked to compare this year`s team with the 2004 club, Baxter said, “I think we are a better hitting team this year. Last year, we came together earlier in the season, but this year I think we actually came together later and even closer than we were before.”
Junior catcher Jenna Torbert went 3-for-4 on Thursday helping the Knights attain a first-round home game in the first round of the 1A State Softball Playoffs. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
by Mike Powell