By RYAN HERMAN
PUMPKIN CENTER –– North Lincoln coach Jon Carpenter was told South Rowan was a well-hitting baseball team.
The Knights found out just how good it was first hand.
Tyler Fuller hit the game’s first pitch over the fence, the Raiders as a team hit for the cycle before their sixth out and South Rowan rolled to an 8-3 win over North Lincoln in the first round of the NCHSAA state 3A playoffs on Wednesday night.
The Raiders (21-6) had five runs on nine hits in the first three innings, and stranded just two during the span en route to an early 5-0 lead.
They had 14 hits as a group on the night, and all nine had at least one hit.
“They hit the fire out of it,” said Carpenter, who was warned by his peers his opponent didn’t have a weak spot in its lineup.
“And they were right.”
Mitchell Keener’s first offering found the sweet spot on Fuller’s bat, and the right fielder sent it over the fence for a quick 1-0 lead.
Matt Honeycutt tripled with two outs, and Austin Corriher singled home Honeycutt for a 2-0 lead two outs in.
After a scoreless first for North Lincoln (11-13-1), singles by Ryan Ashworth and Fuller in the second led to a two-run double by Chandler Corriher, giving the Raiders a 4-0 lead and 20 total bases.
An RBI single by Ashworth in the third staked South Rowan to a 5-0 lead.
“I’m not making no excuses. Three-A ball is good,” Carpenter said.
While their offense went 5-for-9 with runners in scoring position, the Raiders’ defense helped the Knights climb back in.
Two errors set up a pair of Knights runs in the third to make it 5-2. Bryan Seymour reached on an error by shortstop Eric Goldston, and later scored when Alex Pickeral’s single to center squirted past Eric Stowe in center field.
Pickeral advanced to second on the misplay, then scored on Zac Reeder’s single on the next pitch.
South Rowan left-hander Blake Johnson didn’t overpower North Lincoln, but he did just enough to keep them off balance. The Knights tagged him for 10 hits, but when they needed a hit, they couldn’t come up with one.
Johnson struck out five and allowed no earned runs in the complete-game win, and held North Lincoln to just one hit in 11 chances with runners in scoring position.
Keener gave up five earned runs on nine hits in three innings of work. South Rowan was simply able to put the ball where North Lincoln’s defense was not.
“Mitchell did not pitch bad (and) Mitchell did not get pulled (for underperforming),” Carpenter said. “Mitchell just got pulled to give them another look, and Gabe (Ellis) came in and did pretty good.”
Ellis allowed one run across three innings, and gave his team a chance to get back in. But the Knights couldn’t do it.
The Raiders scored two more off Reeder in the seventh before North Lincoln added its final run on South Rowan’s fourth error of the game.
Ty Pauley went 2-for-3 for the Knights, and scored their final run on a throwing error by Hunter Travis. Reeder was 2-for-3 and Zach Avery doubled in the fourth but was left at second.
Fuller went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs and runs, and Ashworth went 3-for-3 with a walk.
The loss dropped North Lincoln to 0-8 all-time in the state baseball playoffs, according to records kept by the NCHSAA, and the win for South Rowan sets up a second round matchup at Waxhaw Marvin Ridge.
Carpenter knows one day his team will break through, but didn’t think it weighed on his players’ minds.
“We weren’t really harping on that. We told them that if they came out and played (well) it would happen,” he said. “We’ve just got to start hitting the ball.”
This spring was North Lincoln’s first as a 3A school. And although it’s current enrollment falls in the 2A classification, Carpenter felt his team performed well against a 3A and 4A schedule.
The Knights finished fifth overall in the eight-team North Piedmont 3A/4A Conference, but finished second among the five 3A teams.
That, Carpenter said, was something to build on.
“I don’t think the kids thought that we could compete with some of the 3A and 4A schools, but they go out and play just like we do,” he said. “I was surprised that we did well. We’ve got a good group of kids that get along. … The bad part is always losing at the end of the year.”