To call senior Josh Belkâ€™s pitching performance special would be like calling the Titanic a small boat accident.
In leading his team to a 7-1 victory over Lincoln County rival East Lincoln (3-2, 0-1) Tuesday night in the Southern Piedmont opener, Belk was nearly unhittable, striking out 19 batters out of a possible 21 outs.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth, fellow senior Mitchell Lynch broke up Belkâ€™s no-hit bid, stroking a double to left center.
One batter later, Greyson Schram ended the shutout as he also doubled, scoring Lynch.
Other than that, Belk was flawless, as he surprisingly threw only a handful of breaking balls and stuck with an overpowering fastball in achieving the second-most strikeouts in Lincoln County history.
So, when did the righthander know he was creating something special?
â€œProbably about the fourth inning when I had struck out 11 of 12, but I was kinda worried about the walks,â€ Belk said. â€œIt was real cold and I was throwing a lot of pitches, but I wanted to stay out there. It was a big rivalry game, itâ€™s important to everybody and itâ€™s a conference game,â€ he added.
What made Belkâ€™s performance even more special was it came against a team heâ€™s most familiar with, as he played for the Mustangs three years ago.
â€œI never thought this could happen against a team like East Lincoln. I came and watched them and they hit the ball pretty well. Theyâ€™re a good team. I just got lucky,â€ he said. â€œI got calls, was just hitting my spots and it paid off,â€ he added.
â€œHe was on a roll. He was in a rhythm. When he got the first three in the first inning, I was like weâ€™re off to a good start. Then he got eight of the first nine, I was like, â€˜OK, Josh is just going to take the game over,â€ Knights head coach Sean Andrews said.
The Knights benefited from four walks and an error in scoring three runs in the top of the first.
They added three more in the fifth courtesy of an Alex Loftin walk with the bases loaded and Andrew Melton RBI-single.
Although the Knights seized control early, the fifth inning left little doubt to the outcome with Belk cruising.
Loftin led the Knights at the plate, going 2-for-4 with one RBI, Melton went 2-for-5 with a RBI, while both Trent Hopkins and Kyle Baker went 1-for-3 with a RBI apiece. Chris Hogue went 1-for-4 with a RBI.
For the Mustangs, Schram, Lynch and Bradley Morris all went 1-for-3. Freshman Aaron Dishman walked and stole a base.
Lynch suffered the loss for the Mustangs as he worked four and two thirds, striking out nine batters, walking nine and allowing five earned runs, leaving Andrews impressed.
â€œMitchell Lynch is an outstanding pitcher. He came back after giving up three runs to us in the first inning and held us in check,â€ he said. â€œI would die to have a lefty on the team like that. Heâ€™s gritty, heâ€™s gutsy, came up got a big hit and scored,â€ he added.
After the game, first-year head coach Chris Matile credited Belk for his stellar effort.
â€œHeâ€™s a good pitcher. I mean you canâ€™t say anything about it. He did a good job,â€ he said. â€œYou see that first fastball and donâ€™t swing at it, youâ€™re going to see fastballs away, youâ€™re going to see fastball up and youâ€™re going to see curves. Thatâ€™s what he did,â€ he added.
Tuesday nightâ€™s victory ups North Lincolnâ€™s record to 8-0, 1-0 in the Southern Piedmont, a drastic difference than the way the Knights have started the last two seasons.
â€œWe just keep playing like we can play and I think weâ€™ll go a long way in the playoffs,â€ Belk said.
East Lincoln falls to 3-2 and 0-1 on the season, but Matile knows his team will keep on trying to improve.
â€œThe kids are putting their time in. Theyâ€™re not slacking. Itâ€™s not like theyâ€™re coming out sitting down and saying, â€˜OK, letâ€™s go home,â€ he said. â€œ Weâ€™ll keep plucking away. The coaches have to keep coaching and the kids will keep working. Itâ€™s not like theyâ€™re going up trying to strike out,â€ he added.
They may not have tried, but Belk turned the first installment in this rivalry into his personal stage and emerged with a performance that will live on in Lincoln County lore for years to come.
North Lincoln beat Hunter Huss 9-7 Friday on the Huskiesâ€™ homefield.
The win went to Chris Hogue (2-0) who worked five innings, struck out two, walked one, allowed six hits and two earned. Alex Loftin recorded his second save of the season, working one inning, striking out one and surrendering no hits.
â€œHe came out, did his job. he got behind and made some good pitches to either get a groundout or a pop fly,â€ North Lincoln head coach Sean Andrews said.
Brandon Miller suffered the loss after pitching two innings and allowing five runs.
Josh Belk went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and finished a triple shy of the cycle.
â€œJosh was seeing the ball well. His first at-bat he yanked about 15 foul that wouldâ€™ve traveled 400 feet. He was on it,â€ Andrews said. â€œI told Josh to sit on one and he sat on the first pitch and hit it about 380. It was a no-doubter,â€ he added.
Kyle Baker went 2-for-4 with one RBI. Trent Hopkins went 1-for-3 with one RBI and two stolen bases.
Clay Kiser was 1-for-2 with a homer to dead center, his first of the season. Andrew Melton had one RBI for the Knights.
Miller went 2-for-3 to lead the Huskies.
While Andrews is obviously pleased with his teamâ€™s perfect mark in non-conference play, both he and his team realize it doesnâ€™t count for anything, except confidence as they begin Southern Piedmont play.
â€œThatâ€™s great for the overall record, but right now weâ€™re 0-0 in conference. I think the guys realize that 7-0 is great, but Tuesday the real season begins,â€ he said.
The Knights open the Southern Piedmont at East Lincoln.
â€œItâ€™s gonna be a great game. I donâ€™t know who theyâ€™re going to throw. Iâ€™m guessing Mitchell (Lynch) and weâ€™re going with Belk . It might be a 1-0 game, depending on the defense,â€ Andrews said.
Senior Alex Loftin went 2-for-3 and also reached on a walk with one RBI to lead the Knights at the plate. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
by John Mark Brooks