By RYAN HERMAN
PUMPKIN CENTER –– Pounding the softball got North Lincoln to the fourth round, and it won’t take anything different to keep its season alive.
The Knights will play their first true road game in over three weeks tonight when they travel to Monroe for a 7 o’clock NCHSAA state 3A playoff game at Sun Valley.
North Lincoln (20-6) is in the round of eight for the second time in the last three years, and is searching for its first trip to the regional round, which is a best-of-three series beginning next week.
But, if the Knights are to see either Enka or Canton Pisgah next week for a shot at the state championship series at Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Softball Complex, they’re going to have to outhit the Spartans tonight.
“We have to know that other teams are going to hit the ball. The deeper we go, the more the other teams are going to hit,” first-year North Lincoln coach Carlee Carpenter said. “We’ve talked about that a couple times, towards the end of our regular season and now in the playoffs, that we’ve got to hit with, or better than, the teams that we’re playing to stay on top.”
Sun Valley (21-4) enters tonight’s game with an unblemished home record in 13 games this season.
The Knights, who haven’t played a true road game since winning 10-4 at West Iredell on May 1, aren’t concerned about their opponent’s record at home.
In fact, they aren’t concerned about where today’s game takes place, period.
“We just have to go with the mentality that we’re going to go give our 110 (percent), whether we’re here, there, or wherever,” Carpenter said.
Aside from staying alive and reaching the ultimate goal of winning a state title, North Lincoln has another reason it wants to continue playing.
Until the spring the school, as a whole, hadn’t fared very well team-wise in the revenue sports in the North Piedmont 3A/4A Conference. Its baseball team finished fifth overall, and was second among the five 3A teams, but its softball team finished second overall to nationally-ranked Alexander Central, and was the top 3A team in the bunch.
Aside from Alexander Central, it’s also the only team that’s still playing. Continuing to play will prove the Knights, who currently have a 2A classification enrollment, belong in the 3A/4A combo league.
“We want to prove to everybody, to our school, that we can do it,” junior Peyton Wilson said. “Everybody thought we’d struggle in this conference but we didn’t. We came in and showed and proved ourselves.”
Added junior Courtney Trickle: “I think we got a name in our conference now, if we keep winning.”
Between the lines, though, the size of the student body doesn’t matter. It’s simply which team wants it the most.
In three state playoff games so far, that team has been North Lincoln. And it’s done it with the bat.
“If we keep hitting like that, and getting behind each other like that,” Trickle said, “we’ll win.”