Thursday Bessemer City was a mere also-ran or speed bump on what the Lady Knights hope is another return trip to the Final Fourâ€”this time in 2A softball.
North Lincoln used 11 hits, 10 RBIs and a plethora of errors by the Yellow Jackets defense to come away with a 17-0 victory at home.
Senior pitcher Nicole Baxter earned her fifth victory on the mound, working just three innings, striking out six, walking four and allowing just one hit.
Baxterâ€™s and the teamâ€™s chances for a shutout appeared to be in serious danger in the top of the third when the Yellow Jackets benefited from her control problems by loading the bases with just one out.
â€œI was like, â€˜OK, weâ€™re going to stop messing around and just get serious. I got more focused and that was it,â€ the Lees-Mcrae signee said.
Leading the Knights at the plate was freshman Emily Torbert, Jenna Torbertâ€™s younger sister, who is having no problem establishing her own identity.
â€œMiddle school was the last time I had seen her play. I wasnâ€™t quite sure how much she would advance in a year and a half, but Iâ€™m very pleased. All three freshmen are doing a good job right now,â€ North Lincoln head coach Rick Brown said of his freshman, who went 2-for-2 before being removed to insert fellow freshman Samantha Harris into the lineup.
Harris had one RBI, while the third freshman, Nicolette Huneycutt had a sacrifice bunt.
Sophomore Kayla Alexander also continues to hit well, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Sophomore Amanda Leonard also had two RBIs in a 1-for-4 performance. April Wilson and Mekenzie Harkey both went 2-for-3 with one RBI apiece. Courtney Feldon, Jenna Torbert and Donia McDonald all chipped in RBIs in the lopsided victory.
Leonardâ€™s performance helped her in terms of locking up the starting assignment at second base, as her and Kim Shoemaker continue to vie for that spot.
â€œThatâ€™s what I told Kim Shoemaker and Amanda Leonard. Right now, theyâ€™re swapping off at second and Iâ€™m waiting for one of them to show everyone theyâ€™re the one that needs to start there,â€ Brown said.
While the past two editions of the Lady Knights were successful due to timely hits and stellar pitching, this team is a much better hitting ball club.
Brown, and anybody else in the know, believes thatâ€™s due to plenty of hard work spent in the batting cage and on the field.
â€œA lot of them spent the time and money, over the winter, going to a special hitting clinic in Charlotte. So, most of them are swinging the bat better. Our problem has been what theyâ€™re swinging at,â€ he said. â€œTheir pitch selection was terrible. Their swings looked great, but they werenâ€™t swinging at good pitches, so thatâ€™s started to come around to,â€ he added.
While the dominant win certainly goes a long way in terms of confidence, Brown is concerned that some teams in the Southern Piedmont wonâ€™t help his team improve at all.
â€œThatâ€™s what we were just talking about. I think whoever qualifies for the playoffs out of our conference are going to be hurting because weâ€™re going to have some teams that arenâ€™t going to challenge the upper-level teams,â€ he said.
The only positive, aside from the conference win, Brown was able to pull from Thursdayâ€™s win was it further illustrated the importance of focus to his team.
â€œThose are the kind of games where you have to teach your kids to focus and not lose that focus, so that when they do play Cherryville or West Lincoln, itâ€™s going to be a little bit stronger,â€ he said.
If the Lady Knights do earn a playoff berth, this year the odds of making a third-consecutive trip to the Final Four will be even worse as 48 teams will be included in the 2A playoffs instead of the 32-team field the Knights have been been a part of the past two seasons.
â€œIt will be a little tougher road. I know East Rutherford made it to the Final Four, so I know we would have to go through them and possibly Maiden, depending on which half of the bracket theyâ€™re in,â€ Brown said.
North Lincoln is 5-1, 2-0 in the Southern Piedmont on the season.
by John Mark Brooks