CHERRYVILLE–The night belonged to Nate Wright, Tyler Howard and a bunch of Lincolnton Wolves who refused to give up.
Trailing Southern Piedmont Conference leader Cherryville 10-3 after four innings of play, the Wolves upstaged the Ironmen at their own game and rallied for an improbable 15-10 win Friday night.
When late-inning comebacks unfold at Fraley Field, Cherryville is usually the team doing the rallying.
Not this time. Lincolnton, which entered the game tied for sixth place in the SPC standings, scored seven runs in the fifth to tie it and five in the seventh to put the game out of reach.
Wright went 3-for-4 with two homers, a double and five RBI to lead a 15-hit Lincolnton attack. Howard pitched three and two-third innings of scoreless relief to stop the hemorraging after Cherryville pounded out 11 hits in the first three innings.
“I`m proud of my boys,” Lincolnton coach Cole Sigmon said. “They always battle, and they never really quit. They just fought and fought.”
The Wolves (5-11, 3-5) have been fighting all season, but until Friday night they had not been able to break through against the conference`s upper-division teams. They blew a 10-5 late-inning lead at West Lincoln and lost a one-game game to East Lincoln in extra innings.
But Lincolnton`s fortunes changed Friday night with one swing of the bat. Wright blasted a two-out, two-run home run over the left center field fence in the top of the seventh to break a 10-10 tie.
The Ironmen (7-6, 6-2) imploded after pitcher Brian Gardo served up his fourth home run ball of the night. They made two infield errors, Gardo walked two batters, and Lincolnton added three more runs to take a cushy five-run lead into the bottom of the seventh.
The Ironmen opened their final at-at with consecutive hits by Gardo and Daniel Martin, but Howard closed the door with a strikeout, a force play at second and an infield pop-up.
Howard came on in the fifth with one out and retired seven of the first eight batters he faced.
Cherryville made a tactical error in the seventh inning. With two outs and a runner at second, coach Scottie Heavner elected to pitch to Wright, who had already knocked in three runs with a homer in the first and a double in the fifth.
Heavner`s decision may have been influenced by the fact that cleanup hitter Kenny Reed, who hit a solo homer in the third, was batting behind Wright.
“I told him (Wright) that if he got his pitch, to hit it. It was a curve ball, and it was up,” Sigmon said. “I had a lot of confidence in Nate. And I didn`t mind Kenny hitting behind him. I figured I could not go wrong with either of them.”
Brandon Locklin also homered for the Wolves and finished the night 3-for-5. Howard, Brad Goodson and Jon Kuster added three hits each to further ravage a Cherryville pitching staff that has yielded 10 home runs and 28 runs in the last two games.
For the Ironmen, shortstop Tripp McSwain could not match his amazing 6-for-6 outing against Bessemer City, but he went 2-for-5 with a double, a homer and two RBI to lead a 14-hit attack.
With the loss, Cherryville fell back into a tie for first place with Besseme City, which blasted Highland Tech 16-4 Friday night.
As it turned out, Sigmon`s pre-game chat with Cherryville assistant coach A.J. Henley proved prophetic.
“I told A.J. before the game this might get a little crazy. And it sure did,” he said.
by Mike Powell