By RYAN HERMAN
The Lincoln County Cardinals vowed to turn their program’s history around before the 2013 American Legion baseball season began in May. Post 455 has done just that, but it’s not finished.
There’s still a state title to be had.
The Cardinals, who completed league play as high as they ever have as the Area IV runner-up, open the American Legion N.C. state tournament at roughly 12:30 p.m. today against Area III champion Randolph County at Fleming Stadium in Wilson.
Before this season no other Post 455 team in its 22-year history had even won an Area IV semifinal series game, much less qualified for the state tournament.
But this year’s group bought into forgetting the past and setting a new mark for the Cardinals.
“We were getting beat bad,” outfielder Jacob Hoover said. “I think we came together as a team; we started flowing together as a team.
“We started racking up some wins and then we were flowing.”
After finishing 10-15 last season, Lincoln County (20-14) appeared headed in the right direction by winning four of its first five games in 2013. Then the Cardinals hit a bit of a snag, headed up by a 16-1 defeat at area rival Caldwell County.
The shellacking began a domino effect, and the team dropped three of its next four games to fall to 5-4 overall on June 7.
Post 455 finished the regular season 11-9, but once the Area IV playoffs began it was a new season –– and Lincoln County played like it.
“We just got hot at the right time,” longtime Cardinals manager Bruce Bolick said.
The Cardinals’ run to the state tournament has come in all phases of the game –– hitting, pitching and defense.
Danny Sullivan has turned it up in the playoffs, batting .519 with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 14 playoff games while Clay Hodges hit .565 (13-for-23) with five RBIs and six runs scored in the semifinal series against Cherryville Post 100.
Right-hander Justin Norton is 3-0 in the playoffs. Hoover is batting .373 on the season and Randal Ortiz is hitting .326, according to statistics kept by the Gaston Gazette.
“If our pitching keeps pitching good and we hit, I feel confident that we can do big things down there,” Hoover said.
Up next is Randolph County (31-5), a perennial power that hasn’t lost since the regular season ended.
Post 45 went 11-0 in the Area III playoffs en route to its eighth area championship. It has also won three state titles, the last in 2008.
Randolph County is the host team for this year’s southeast regional tournament Aug. 8-12, which gives it an automatic berth into the regionals. If Post 45 was to win the state tournament, then the runner-up will also advance.
But Lincoln County isn’t going to Wilson to finish second.
“I feel real good (about our chances),” Bolick said. “I’m proud of our team for making it to the state championship tournament.”