The North Lincoln Lady Knights and the East Lincoln Lady Mustangs varsity softball teams both suffered difficult defeats in the semifinal round of the Southern Piedmont Conference tournament on Monday.
North Lincoln lost to Bessemer City, the eventual winner of the tournament, 3-2 and East Lincoln fell to Cherryville 6-5. The Mustangs held the lead through the sixth inning, but Cherryville posted six runs in the bottom of the sixth for the win.
Now both teams, and the West Lincoln Lady Rebels, are headed into the playoffs.
North Lincoln, the No. 1 seed in the SPC 2A bracket, hosts South Iredell at 6 p.m. on Friday. Lady Knights head coach Kristen Bryson was a teacher at South Iredell last semester and said the girls softball coach was one of her closest friends, adding some extra flavor to the rivalry.
“They’re aggressive, they have a lot of girls that can slap and they know us, they’ve scouted us,” she said. “They’ll be preparing for us too, and we won’t be as big of a surprise to them.”
Bryson said she felt the Lady Knights lost their way in the conference tournament, and hope to make up some ground in practice before the playoffs begin.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time on getting our mental focus back and staying mentally tough,” she said. “It’s a long season, and it’s hard for students and athletes to stay focused. We’re going to try to get back our intense edge.”
North Lincoln’s defense has been helped along by pitchers Payton Wilson and Hollyn Franklin.
“We’ve started throwing both pitchers in the game, and it takes the pressure off of both of them,” Bryson said. “It’s also a changeup for the batters because Wilson is right handed and Franklin is left handed. Who pitches is just based on how the game goes and how things are flowing, and both of my pitchers stay warm the entire game. I typically like to have both of them in the game because they both have strong bats.”
Through the close of the regular season, six members of North Lincoln’s roster with more than 30 at-bats hit with an average above .300. Jayden Maddox led the team with a .509 batting average and a .672 on-base percentage. Franklin has a .326 batting average and Wilson has a .404 average.
“We have the potential with every single one of our bats to produce big hits,” Bryson said. “I don’t know that I’m necessarily looking for one or two girls to produce, I’m looking to the whole team. We have the aggressive baserunners and now we just have to string together the hits and the runs. We have a strong short game, in terms of bunting and slapping; they’ll have to pull the offense together as a team.”
East Lincoln’s playoff opponent is somewhat uncertain, and depends upon the finishes for the top three teams in the South Mountain 2A/3A Athletic Conference. Lady Mustangs head coach Mike Freeman said he believes the East Lincoln will likely be on the road at Chase on Thursday, one of the top-ranked 2A teams in the state.
“It’s going to be a tough game, to go play a team that’s ranked that high,” he said. “I haven’t had a chance to see them play, but Cherryville played them earlier in the season and their coach told me they have a left-handed pitcher that’s pretty good. Cherryville scored nine runs against them, but still wound up getting beat 11-9. It sounds like their an offensive team, and have pretty good pitching.”
The Lady Mustangs came up against only one left-handed pitcher, against Lake Norman Charter, earlier in the season, but Freeman said that doesn’t change his game plan.
“That was in the middle of our slump, when we were hitting anything,” he said. “I only have one left-handed hitter on the team, and a left-handed pitcher isn’t too common here. If she’ll throw a strike and we can hit it, it doesn’t make a difference whether she’s right handed or left handed. If she has some movement and changeups and can knock us off balance it will be tough, but if we can make contact we’ll be alright.”
East Lincoln finished the season with a 9-11 record, and went 6-8 in SPC play. Freeman said he felt the team’s last several games are a good indication that things are improving.
“We played the best defensive ball game we’ve played all year on Monday,” he said. “We didn’t make any errors in the game, for the first time this season, and we had our first two home runs of the season. We went through 20 games and didn’t even come close to hitting a home run, but then we had two. If we had another month or two we’d probably be right there, but we’re drawing down to the end. I’m feeling better about the way we’re playing, especially the last couple of games. We played that last regular season game against Cherryville and they just spanked us. Maybe the girls said ‘we’re tired of this and let’s try to do better.’”
The Mustangs have also relied heavily on senior pitcher Brittany Miller, who has been the “workhorse” of the East Lincoln defense.
“She’s a senior and she pitched hard all year long,” Freeman said. “Even when our defense behind her wasn’t giving her the support she needed she still pitched her heart out. We were in every game we played except for two games, nobody blew us out. She pitched well enough where we should have had a better record, but we didn’t make the plays or get the hits.”