By RYAN HERMAN
PUMPKIN CENTER –– North Lincoln feels if it’s going to make a run at a state softball title it’s going to have to hit.
The Knights did plenty of it in the second round.
Peyton Wilson and Hollyn Franklin homered, seven of the Knights’ 14 hits went for extra bases and they pounded their way into the third round of the NCHSAA state 3A softball playoffs with an 11-2 win over Morganton Freedom on Friday.
North Lincoln (19-6) will host Fred T. Foard, a 2-1 extra-inning winner over West Rowan, in a third round game on Tuesday.
“You can’t win without hitting,” Wilson said. “We just want a big crowd at our next game.”
Sidney Russell went 2-for-3 with an RBI triple in the sixth inning, Courtney Trickle went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, Franklin hit a two-run homer in the sixth, went 3-for-4 and drove in three, and Wilson had a two-run home run in the first and a two-run double in the third to start the rout.
Wilson’s homer in the first followed a double play, and paired with Franklin’s RBI single two batters earlier gave North Lincoln a quick 3-0 lead through one.
The Patriots (14-11) scored a pair of runs in the third without the benefit of a hit to make it 3-2, but in the home-half of the inning the Knights broke it open.
Russell led off with a single and was sacrificed over by Macy Parker. Franklin singled to put runners at first and third, and Trickle followed with a double that plated Russell.
Wilson came up with a two-run double into the corner in right, and after Franklin and Trickle crossed the plate, the Knights led 6-2.
North Lincoln made it 8-2 in the fifth on a pair of doubles by Trickle and Gabby Solamita, the last which scored Trickle, and an RBI single by Jayden Maddox.
Mia Huss led off the sixth with a single and moved to second on an error. Russell followed with a triple that scored Huss, and Franklin homered to straightaway center field two batters later for the final score.
“We just came in ready to win. We don’t want to go home,” Trickle said. “We want that (state championship) ring.”
With all that hitting –– eight of the 11 that had an at-bat for North Lincoln had at least one hit –– the Knights got them when necessary. Of their 17 baserunners, only four were left standing at the end of an inning.
“It’s just exciting, to be able to come out with that many runs in a second-round playoff game,” North Lincoln coach Carlee Carpenter said. “It leaves a good taste for our next game, winning like that.
“The deeper we go the more other teams are going to hit. Sometimes we rely on our pitchers … but the better teams are going to hit, so we’ve got to outhit them.”
Not only was Wilson and her teammates deadly with the bat, but her relief of Franklin in the pitching circle was solid enough to toss four-plus innings of shutout softball for the win.
Franklin, a senior left-hander who two weeks ago signed to pitch for Division II King University, located in Bristol, Tenn., struggled with her control and gave up four walks to only two hits in 2 1/3 innings.
Wilson took over with the bases loaded and one away in the third, and promptly threw a three-pitch strikeout for the second out, and induced a 1-3 ground ball for the third to hold Freedom to a pair of runs in the inning.
Wilson allowed three hits across the next four innings, struck out two, and didn’t allow a baserunner beyond second.
The junior needed only six pitches in the seventh to end the contest and seal the Knights’ fate into the next round.
“On senior night, one of the things that Hollyn said was that she’d like to thank Peyton because Peyton’s always got her back,” Carpenter said. “That’s what I told (Franklin) after the game, I was like, ‘You’re right, Peyton’s always got your back.’ … Peyton really just stepped in, took charge, did her job on the mound tonight.”