Itâ€™s a clichÐ¹ in sports, but itâ€™s oh so true. No matter how the regular season finishes out, what truly matters is a team peaking at the right time.
The North Lincoln Lady Knights seem to be doing just that. After beating Maiden 9-2 and Cherryville 5-1 to win the Southern Foothillsâ€™ Conference Tournament.
â€œIt seems like weâ€™re getting on a roll like we did last year, just a little bit sooner,â€ North Lincoln head coach Rick Brown said. â€œLast year, we didnâ€™t get on a roll until the playoffs. This year it looks like weâ€™ve done it in the conference tournament.â€
â€œHopefully, it will carry over into the playoffs,â€ he added.
To make matters even better for the Lady Knights, by winning the Southern Foothills, they gained a number two seed bumping Maiden down to the number three3 seed in the 1A State Playoffs.
The difference? 162 miles, the distance from Pumpkin Center to number one seed Swain High School, which is located in Bryson City and a home playoff game.
â€œI used that as an incentive to play better in the conference tournament. I told the girls if we could win the conference tournament we would have at least one home playoff game,â€ Brown said.
At the time of press, North Lincoln will play Smoky Mountainâ€™s No. 4 seed Hayesville, but the day and time has not been set.
Tentatively, Brown and assistant coach Melanie Painter is leaning toward Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
As junior pitcher Nicole Baxter goes, so goes the Lady Knights; well for the most part. When Baxter is on her game, minimizing walks and striking out 7-10 batters, her team is more likely to win.
But donâ€™t forget about her defense. Shortstop Lindsey Smith has played near flawless softball in the field and Jenna Torbert has done a solid job blocking pitches and keeping would-be base stealers honest.
â€œWhether we keep them off the bases with our defense or with her pitching, if we can do those two things that will be a big plus for us,â€ Brown said.
â€œOur defense has played really solid for us the last three games,â€ Brown added.
Last season, the Lady Knightsâ€™ march to the 1A Final Four was on the road each round. This year, one of their goals was to begin the state playoffs at home.
If Maiden gets past Swain in the first round, in a twist of irony, North Lincoln will host the Blue Devils in round two. Brown believes beating both Maiden and the Lady Ironmen will aid their playoff push.
â€œI think beating both of them in the conference tournament and playing as well as we did, weâ€™ll have more confidence going into those games, knowing that if we play well we can beat them.â€
No matter how the rest of the ride goes, Brown is proud of what his team, laden with so many expectations, has already accomplished.
â€œIâ€™m really proud of the girls finishing winning the conference tournament. Itâ€™s a good step for us going into the playoffs.â€ Brown said.
by John Mark Brooks