The North Lincoln Lady Knights had one goal entering their third round playoff match-up against the Cherryville Lady Ironmen â€” to â€˜git-r-done.â€™
The Lady Knights did just that enroute to a 7-3 victory Friday at Cherryville and sending them back to Walnut Creek for the 1A Final Four for the second consecutive year.
After back-to-back singles by Nicole Baxter and Courtney Feldon, Jenna Torbertâ€™s tie-breaking RBI single plated Kim Shoemaker and gave North Lincoln a 4-3 lead in the top of the fifth.
Freshman Kayla Alexander, who already had one RBI to her credit, delivered again with a groundout that scored Feldon.
Senior Lindsey Smith followed with a RBI single extending the lead to 6-3.
With Baxter cruising on the mound, thatâ€™s all the Lady Knights would need.
After allowing a two-run single to Tracy Gardo and throwing three wild pitches, Baxter settled down and held the Lady Ironmen to two hits the rest of the way.
As is usually the case, Baxter earned the victory in complete-game fashion, striking out five batters.
In the top of the seventh, Smith smashed a ball up the middle. Pitcher Abby Walls, a stellar defender, nearly made a play on the hard-hit ball but was unable to, scoring Torbert.
Torbert, who batted .440 on the season, paced the Lady Knights at the plate, going 2-for-3 with one RBI. Baxter, Feldon and Smith all were 2-for-4. Smith also had two RBIs.
Alexander defied her age, going 1-for-4 with two RBIs and a sacrifice that later scored.
Gardo, Erica Dodd and Casey Valentine recorded the only hits for Cherryville.
Baxter was so pumped up for the game, played in front of over 300 spectators, that she threw an uncharacteristic three wild pitches in the first inning alone and several balls that werenâ€™t even close to the plate.
â€œThe first inning, well more like the first three, I was really nervous,â€ she said.
North Lincoln head coach Rick Brown began warming up senior Nicole Hall after the first inning. But how close was he to pulling his star pitcher?
â€œOne more walk and she was gone,â€ he said.
Despite the rocky beginning, Brown believed Baxter would get it together.
â€œI knew if Nicole could settle down and get it in the strike zone that we generally hit better than they do. Thatâ€™s what I was hoping would happen somewhere along the way,â€ said.
Lady Ironmen head coach Lynn Hicks felt the fifth inning was the difference-maker.
â€œIâ€™m sure she (Abby) probably got a little bit tired. By that time, itâ€™s been hot out here and sheâ€™s pitched a lot of innings lately. But theyâ€™re just a good hitting team,â€ she said.
â€œItâ€™s just a matter of time before they have that kind of inning against you,â€ she added.
â€œThat (our hitting) is what saved us tonight,â€ Brown said. â€œAfter that great first inning both teams had, it was our hitting that kept us in.â€
The defensive play of the game was turned in by Feldon at second base in the bottom of the first inning. Walls hit a hard grounder to Feldonâ€™s left.
The sophomore made a spectacular diving stab and throw to rob Walls of a base hit. Megan Bridges scored on the play.
Smith, one of North Lincolnâ€™s heroes at the plate, said the close game made her cherish the victory even more.
â€œIt was a nerve-racking game at the beginning, so to come back and win made it even sweeter,â€ she said.
North Lincoln 300 030 1â€”7 10 1
Cherryville 300 000 0â€”3 3 2
Senior shortstop Lindsey Smith was flawless in the field and went 2-for-4 with two RBIs for the Lady Knights. Joseph Brymer / LTN Photo
by John Mark Brooks