In the same way a pastor would address the masses to remember someoneâ€™s life, North Lincoln Lady Knights head coach Rick Brown did the same of the Lady Knightsâ€™ run over the past two seasons.
By holding a vigil of sorts after North Johnston eliminated them Saturday night from the 1A Final Four with a 5-4 loss in nine innings, Brown, surrounded by parents and players, stood at the center of a circle, spoke of the disappointing third-place finish almost like a death.
â€œYou have a lot to be proud of,â€ he said. â€œYou made it to the Final Four back-to-back years and finished third in the state.â€
North Lincoln finishes its season at 21-10. Seniors Calah Bynum, Lindsey Smith and Nicole Hall played their final high school game Saturday.
The Lady Knights have achieved a lot over the past two seasons, but akin to mourning, they werenâ€™t focused on that.
Standing behind field one, tears fell openly and consoling hugs were dished out by parents and teammates alike.
Brownâ€™s words hung in the air as everyone anticipated what would next leave his mouth.
No matter what the coach would or could have said, nobody would have felt better, but he surely did his best.
â€œMaybe the better team didnâ€™t win tonight, but they played better than us today,â€ Brown said honestly.
â€œI want to see everyone holding their head high when they leave here. You have nothing to be ashamed of.â€
While the Knightsâ€™ season died Saturday, nobody will ever forget its lifeâ€” one filled with joyous times, gut-wrenching times and sad times.
And in the same vein, a loved one to always remember; the Knightsâ€™ fans, coaches and team members alike will never forget its lifeâ€”and what a wonderful life it was.
North Lincoln versus Gates County
The Lady Knights rebounded with a 6-0 over Gates County.
It was a complete effort for North Lincoln as they pounded out 11 hits and committed only one error.
Nicole Baxter pitched five innings, allowing two hits and striking out five batters for the victory.
â€œI just focused and the team just focused as a whole. We were like, â€˜OK, weâ€™re not doing what we did the first game and letâ€™s just get some hits and have fun,â€™â€ Baxter said.
Freshman Kayla Alexander and sophomores April Wilson and Courtney Feldon all went 2-for-3 to pace North Lincoln at the plate.
â€œLast year we didnâ€™t have any seniors, so we were like, weâ€™re not going to get first, but we donâ€™t want to get fourth,â€ Wilson said.
â€œThis year, we had a bad first game, but I think we could beat them (East Surry) if we had to play them again,â€ she added.
Lindsey Smith and McKenzie Harkey both went 1-for-3 with one RBI. Jenna Torbert and Baxter were 1-for-4 with one RBI apiece.
The Lady Knights scored all six runs in the fifth inning off six hits. Baxter, Torbert, Alexander, Smith and Harkey each had RBIs in the inning.
Regaining confidence, the Lady Knights, despite their opening loss, had one goal in mind for the weekend.
â€œWe canâ€™t do any worse than we did last year, but we really want to come back Sunday because we want to win first,â€ Baxter, who pitched out of a bases loaded, one out situation in the fifth inning.
With runners on the corners for Gates County in the bottom of the sixth, junior center fielder Donia McDonald made a cradle catch, ending the threat and preserving the shutout.
While Brown was happy his team had staved off elimination, he was not satisfied.
â€œIt still wasnâ€™t a great game, but it was good enough to win that time.â€
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North Lincoln versus East Surry (First Game)
East Surry used small-ball and extra-base hits to come away with a convincing 11-1 victory in the first round of the Final Four.
Karlie Love notched the victory, pitching four innings, striking out four and allowing one hit.
Haley Burge and Kayla Boyles both went 2-for-4. Boyles led the Lady Cards with four RBIs, while Burge had two RBIs.
The leading hitter for North Lincoln was Jenna Torbert, who went 2-for-3 with one RBI.
Nicole Baxter suffered the defeat, working three and a third, giving up seven hits and seven earned runs. Of the seven hits, three came on bunts.
Burge gave East Surry a 2-0 lead in the top of the third, just missing a homerun to left field. Love followed with a RBI-single and a Bolesâ€™ groundout gave the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.
The Lady Cards scored five in the top of the fourth, with the big hit being Bolesâ€™ three-RBI double to right-center.
Senior Nicole Hall pitched three and two-thirds, allowing four hits, and two earned runs in a solid relief appearance.
She also struck out four batters.
â€œThey just seemed to want it more than we did. They came out and played all-around better ball,â€ said Brown. â€œThey hit better, they pitched better. Their defense didnâ€™t make any mistakes.â€
One area that really hurt North Lincoln was East Surryâ€™s successful penchant for bunting.
â€œI told the girls the one thing I was disappointed in was they did to us the one thing I couldnâ€™t get our girls to do all seasonâ€”bunt whenever they needed or wanted to,â€ Brown said.
â€œThose two innings when they did all that really hurt us,â€ he said. â€œWe just didnâ€™t respond the way we shouldâ€™ve.â€
Entering Saturdayâ€™s second game, Brown left his team with a final message.
â€œWeâ€™ve been here before. This is where we were last year, same situation,â€ he said. â€œWe came back and at least won the next one last year. I expect no less this year.â€
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North Lincoln 000 001 xâ€”1 4 3by John Mark Brooks