East Lincoln had plenty of confidence coming into North Lincoln Friday. Having played themselves back into contention, the Knights knew they would have their hands full as no team would rather put an end to streak as their arch rival.
Unfortunately for the contingent of fans that made their way from Denver to Pumpkin Center, that was the case, as the Knights held on for a 7-6 victory in another Lincoln County showdown in a Southern Piedmont full of big-time county games.
With the score tied at three in the fifth, the Mustangs inserted ace Mitchell Lynch in the lineup and defying conventional wisdom the move backfired.
â€œHeâ€™s (Mitchellâ€™s) done a good job for us thus far. He just got a little behind in the count. Once you get behind in the count, itâ€™s tough to get good batters out, especially good hitters like North Lincolnâ€™s got,â€ East Lincoln head coach Chris Matile said.
After Andrew Melton and Josh Belk each walked, junior Trent â€˜Aceâ€™ Hopkins laced a liner into right, giving the Knights a 4-3 advantage.
The next batter, senior Kyle Baker sent a deep drive to center, plating Belk and Hopkins as part of a two-RBI triple putting the Knights up 6-3.
Junior Chris Hogue, who was 2-for-3 with two RBIs, sent a sac.-fly to right that scored Baker to give the home team a four-run edge.
It turns out they would need one of those runs, as the Mustangs seemed poised to have a monstrous inning in the top of the sixth.
Sophomore Jesse Guice laced a two-RBI single into right field, whittling the lead to 7-6. With the bases loaded, reliever Alex Loftin buckled down a struck out the final batter of the inning to prevent further damage.
Junior Trent Hopkins has been a model of consistency for the Knights at the plate and on the base paths. Friday, the cleanup batter went 1-for-2 with two RBIs. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
The missed opportunity for the Mustangs marked the second time in the game they were unable to find gold despite having their treasure map (see treasure map=bases loaded). In the top of the second, senior Greyson Schram smoked a ball that appeared to be screaming into left.
But an instant after making contact with Schramâ€™s bat, the ball found itself in Belkâ€™s glove, who stepped on third for the double play.
â€œGreyson basically tagged that thing and I put my glove up so I wouldnâ€™t get hit in the dang face. It was basically a reaction/reflex play, but Iâ€™m glad I made it. It wouldâ€™ve been a different game if he wouldâ€™ve gotten a double and scored those runs,â€ Belk said of the spectacular catch.
â€œWe had the perfect guy up for the situation. He hit the ball well. Belk just made a great play,â€ Matile said.
One thing the Mustangs did find solace in was the fact they played much better this time around, compared to the teamsâ€™ first meeting.
â€œI pitched very good and settled down after the first inning. Itâ€™s pretty disappointing. The first time we battled and didnâ€™t come through and this time we battled, but just didnâ€™t come through, 7-6, but thatâ€™s a step up from last time,â€ Guice said.
Matile believed it was the early innings that came back to haunt his club.
â€œWe failed to execute in the first and second inning. I have to do a better job coaching and we have to take advantage of those opportunities,â€ he said.
As disappointing as it was in the Mustangs dugout, it was just as joyous in the Knightsâ€™ dugout.
â€œThis was big and crucial for us. Weâ€™re 4-3 now in the conference. Weâ€™re not in the driverâ€™s seat, but we just got to keep it going. We just have to stay on top,â€ Hogue said. â€œThis is the first time weâ€™ve done thatâ€”undefeated against East. But we just have to keep it going,â€ he added.
T.J. Chapman, Kevin Wiles and Guice all went 2-for-4 to lead the Mustangs at the plate. Wiles and Chapman also had a RBI.
Belk paced the Knights with 2-for-2 performance, while Hogue went 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Hopkins was 1-for-2 with two RBIs. Baker went 1-for-3 with a two-RBI triple.
â€œYou get up on them 7-3 and they just nibble back and take advantage of some close calls,â€ Knights head coach Sean Andrews said.
â€œItâ€™s a big win. It helps these kids heading into the weekend. Hopefully, this builds their confidence to play against Bessemer City and beat Bessemer, cause we can do it. I know that we can,â€ he added of his teamâ€™s date with the Yellow Jackets on Tuesday.
by John Mark Brooks