By RYAN HERMAN
PUMPKIN CENTER –– For five innings Tuesday it looked as if North Lincoln’s season was headed to an end.
One inning changed all that.
Gabby Solomita and Emily Castro drove in two runs each, the Knights batted around in a five-run sixth and they rallied late to knock off Fred T. Foard 8-4 and reach the fourth round of the NCHSAA state 3A playoffs.
North Lincoln (20-6) heads to Monroe Friday for a quarterfinal game at Sun Valley High, which knocked off Thomasville Ledford 5-3 to advance.
“We started sluggish, I think. I think tonight we were just looking for that spark to start us, and it didn’t happen until the sixth inning,” Knights coach Carlee Carpenter said. “A lot of our girls were looking for somebody to step up, and then they decided, ‘Hey, I’m going to take initiative.’ And that’s all it took.”
Fred T. Foard (11-13) took the field in the bottom of the sixth with a 4-3 lead thanks to a solo home run in the fifth by Erynne Chalk.
Karson Parker reached on an error to begin the frame, and nine batters later the Knights had an 8-4 lead. The Tigers committed two errors in the sixth, both of which led to runs, and Macie Parker, Courtney Trickle, Solomita and Castro plated their teammates just like their coach had asked.
Prior to its turn at-bat in the sixth North Lincoln had stranded eight, five in scoring position.
Peyton Wilson had an RBI single in the third for the Knights’ first run to make it 3-1, but she was thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double.
Castro’s sac fly in the fourth scored Solomita, but with a runner at third Parker grounded out to leave, at that time, the tying run.
After Chalk’s homer made it 4-2, Jayden Maddox came through with a two-out base knock to score Courtney Trickle, but popups in foul territory doomed North Lincoln from doing any more damage.
Those popups finally turned into hard, line drives in the sixth.
“Just that little bit of leadership, and, boom, eight runs,” Carpenter said.
Senior left-hander Hollyn Franklin shook off a rough first two innings and settled in nicely until allowing the home run to Chalk in the fifth.
She walked two and gave up two hits in a two-run first, the last which scored on an illegal pitch.
In the second Franklin gave up two more hits, and an error on Delaney Dellinger’s hit sent her and her team into a 3-0 hole.
Franklin got Chalk to fly out to end the second, which started a chain reaction of nine consecutive retired batters for the Division II-bound senior.
Franklin struck out six in a row at one point, and finished with 10 on the evening. Trailing 4-3, she was lifted for Wilson after issuing a lead-off walk to start the sixth.
Wilson promptly retired the side, then worked around a lead-off single in the top of the seventh to send the Knights onto their next opponent.
“Their combined effort on the mound has just really been working for us,” Carpenter said. “As long as they keep working and do better every game, I’m hoping that we can keep working this rotation. I’m very proud of both of our pitchers.”
Friday’s game will be North Lincoln’s first true road test since May 1, when it won 10-4 at West Iredell.
The top-seeded Knights went 8-1 in true road games this year, with their only loss coming at powerhouse Alexander Central.
Sun Valley (21-4), also a No. 1 seed, gets to host because of its higher overall win percentage. But Carpenter isn’t worried about having to play away from her home field as long as her players want it as much as they showed in the last inning against Fred T. Foard.
“I think as long as we step onto the field with the mentality that we can compete wherever we are with whatever team, that we’ll be OK,” said Carpenter, whose team is back in the round of eight after a one-year hiatus. “At this point, I think you either want it so bad it doesn’t matter, or you don’t want it bad enough.
“I’m hoping that our girls are, ‘We want this, we’re going to go get it.’”