In just three short years, North Lincoln and Cherryville have built quite a rivalry.
That rivalry had another memorable chapter added to it Wednesday afternoon on the Lady Knights homefield.
Boisterous and intense fans, from both sides, saw North Lincoln blow a 4-1 lead before coming back to win 8-7 in nine innings.
Cherryville was held in check from the first inning until the seventh, facing Lees-McRae signee Nicole Baxter on the mound.
Baxter had a unique showing. Known for her strikeouts, she did not disappoint with 13 in the game, but she also allowed an uncharacteristic and career-high 11 walks, while allowing eight hits.
With the bases loaded, Mary Fraley walked to close the gap to 4-2 as Taylor Shelton crossed home plate.
Another walk to Ashton Brown plated Kristen Decanal, bringing the Ironmen within one run.
Thatâ€™s when things got interesting. A bang-bang play at first base on a slow roller by Haley Ballard scored Emily Self to tie the game.
With the Lady Knights looking for the call, a hustling Mary Fraley scored to give the Ironmen a 5-4 advantage.
A Donia McDonald fielderâ€™s choice scored Emily Torbert, sending the game into extra innings.
The Lady Ironmen struck first in the top of the eighth. Freshman Emily Self scored Decanal on a liner up the middle.
With runners at the corners, a wild pitch plated Tracy Gardo, who had walked, to give Cherryville a two-run lead.
Baxter, the cagey veteran, settled down enough to get a groundout and strikeout, preventing further damage.
In the bottom half of the eighth, Kim Shoemaker scored on a wild pitch with the bases loaded, cutting Cherryvilleâ€™s lead to just one.
Sophomore Kayla Alexander grounded out and a mental gaffe allowed junior Courtney Feldon to score the tying run.
North Lincoln was in prime position to win the game, but third baseman Erika Dodd alertly threw home and got Jenna Torbert at the plate, ending the inning.
Baxter regained her composure and retired the Ironmen one, two, three with two of the outs coming via strikeouts.
Back-to-back strikeouts by Self, who replaced Walls in the eighth inning, shouldâ€™ve put the Ironmen in prime position to extend the game. But an alert Amanda Leonard hustled to first courtesy of a passed ball on the second K.
Consecutive errors by the normally solid Cherryville defense allowed Leonard to score the game-winning run.
While the mistakes obviously couldnâ€™t have come at a less opportune time, Ironmen coach Lynn Hicks refused to place the blame on the errant throws.
â€œEven though the two errors are obviously on everybodyâ€™s mind, because they saw what happened with that, you got to go back to the opportunities we had to really put them away early and we didnâ€™t she said of squandered scoring chances. â€œWe left runners on base all over the place and didnâ€™t take advantage of it at the plate either,â€ she added.
Feldon, one of the Knights leaders, just felt her team just picked a bad game to have an â€˜off game.â€™
â€œThis was definitely an off day. As a team, everybody had to put in the extra effort to come away with the win,â€ the shortstop said.
There is no disputing North lost focus with a three-run lead and their ace pitcher on the mound, but once they blew the lead, the Knights stayed mentally tough enough to rally for the victory.
â€œThe one thing I was really happy with was they did not give up. They went the whole nine innings and never thought they couldnâ€™t win the ballgame,â€ Knights head coach Rick Brown said.
Hicks was also proud of how her team refused to give up.
â€œEverybody in the whole place thought it was over, when they were up 4-1, but then we scratched and clawed and got back in it,â€ she said.
Both Feldon and Baxter had two RBIs at the plate for the Lady Knights. Feldon paced her team with a season-high four hits and after the game articulated what everybody: players, umpires, and fans were feeling.
â€œIt was like a wave. Youâ€™re up and down constantly. You have to keep yourself up, but you get down a lot. You have to try to keep everybodyâ€™s head up and keep everybody positive,â€ she said.
Wilson had two hits for North.
Decanal went 3-for-5 to lead Cherryville at the plate. Senior Abby Walls recorded two hits and struck out six batters in the seven innings she worked on the mound.
Walls, like her counterpart, surrendered eight hits.
The win marked the first time the Knights have beaten Cherryville in the first meeting in school history. It also put them in sole possession of first place in the Southern Piedmont at 7-1, 4-0.
by John Mark Brooks