Despite back-to-back third place finishes in the N.C. Softball Final Four, there was one thing the Lady Knights of North Lincoln had never done â€” win a conference championship and sweep Cherryville.
With a 9-7 victory over the Lady Ironmen Thursday night, both things changed as the Lady Knights head into their final two games versus Lincolnton and West Lincoln, still undefeated at 12-0 in the Southern Piedmont.
By anyoneâ€™s standards, the contest was and wasnâ€™t the type of game many expect when these two powers get together. Yes, it had the same suspense that every close game has, but it also saw both teams commit mental and physical errors all the way through.
The Lady Knights surged out to a 5-1 lead before four walks and an Abby Wallsâ€™ double whittled the lead to 5-4.
North scored three in the top of the third on three hits and a walk to seize control of the game.
After holding North Lincoln (15-3, 12-0) scoreless in three consecutive at-bats, Cherryville scored two runs in the sixth and added one more in the seventh, making the score 9-7.
With runners in scoring position, rightfielder April Wilson caught a fly ball and threw to third baseman Emily Torbert who doubled up a runner who had not tagged up to end the game in double-play fashion.
Wilson, who would have a second double-play later in the game, caught a fly ball and doubled up a would-be run at the plate, as she fired the ball into Jenna Torbert from right.
Senior Nicole Baxter (13-3) overcame 11 walks to record the victory on the mound, as she pitched a complete-game, allowing five hits and striking out two.
North Lincoln head coach Rick Brown believed winning the Southern Piedmont was particularly special because they have not won a conference title before in school history.
â€œIt was an emotional win to get tonight, because it was the No. 1 goal weâ€™ve been working for this season,â€ he said. â€œIt was the one accomplishment we hadnâ€™t had yet in three years,â€ he added.
In the previous two years, North has finished third behind Cherryville and Maiden, although, they did win last yearâ€™s Southern Foothills Conference Tournament.
â€œIt feels great to not only have met one goal, but two. We defeated Cherryville twice and we clinched first place in the conference. As a team, it doesnâ€™t get much better than that,â€ said junior Courtney Feldon, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
Freshman Emily Torbert, who had a single, double and two RBIs, was all smiles after the game.
â€œIâ€™m just really pumped the team worked together and came out with two wins this season,â€ she said. â€œBoth teams never gave up and I was even surprised with myself about how badly I wanted to win this game with all of these butterflies in my stomach for seven innings straight.â€
Wilson went 2-for-3 with one RBI, while Kim Shoemaker and Baxter both chipped in two singles for the Knights. Kayla Alexander and Donia McDonald also singled.
Leading the Lady Knights all season has been the stellar play of Feldon and Jenna Torbert. Feldon is batting .480, with 13 RBIs, 19 runs scored and eight steals through 16 games.
Torbert, who has an on-base percentage of .575, was hitting .476 with 12 RBIs and 17 runs scored. Just as important as their stats has been the leadership theyâ€™ve provided for North Lincoln.
â€œThe girls look up to them in a kind of a natural role. At the very beginning of the season, the girls voted not to have team captains, but these two girls have been leaders and the girls look up to them because of the way they play,â€ Brown said.
Alexander was batting .380 with a team-leading 18 RBIs and 12 runs, while Wilson was batting .370 with 12 runs scored. Donia McDonald had 11 RBIs, while Shoemaker has six stolen bases through the first 16 games.
Two-sport standout sophomore Kayla Alexander is leading the Knights with 18 RBIs on the season. Sheâ€™s also batting .380 with 12 runs scored.
by John Mark Brooks