The road to a 1A State softball crown will not be an easy one for the North Lincoln Lady Knights.
But the Lady Knights have shown they donâ€™t really care about â€˜whoâ€™s favored win.â€™ They care more about who does win.
So far in the 2004 1A Softball Playoffs that has been North whoâ€™s won three consecutive games.
The Lady Knights won convincingly over Cherokee 11-0, they followed that win with a 5-0 victory over softball perennial powerhouse Cherryville.
All that stood in North Lincolnâ€™s way was a trip to Maiden to take on the Lady Blue Devils. The Lady Knights proved they were up to the task winning 7-2.
The victory sent the Lady Knights into the 1A Final Four in only their first year.
They join North Brunswick, North Moore and Camden County.
North Brunswick (23-3) is vying for their third consecutive 1A title. They are led by senior pitching ace Brittney Lehrschall.
Lehrschall has enjoyed a sensational career. She was 1A Miss NCHSAA Softball in 2003 and has been four-time Coastal Plains Conference Player of the Year.
Lehrschall is 22-1 on the season, has thrown five perfect games and has a .02 ERA. She has thrown 17 no-hitters in her illustrious career.
The Scorpions will play Camden County in their first round matchup.
Camden is led by two-time Atlantic Seven Player of the Year Jessica Sanders.
Sanders hit .520 on the season and was the pitching ace with a 16-1 record and .93 ERA.
North Lincolnâ€™s first round matchup will be North Moore who for the past two years have come in as 1A State Softball Runner-ups.
The Mustangs (29-1) are led by Heidi McNeill who is 21-1 on the year with a .87 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 123 innings.
At the plate they are paced by Bailey Gamer with a .533 batting average and seven homeruns.
The Lady Knights are led by pitcher Nicole Baxter who is 15-6 on the season and is nearing 200 strikeouts on the year.
At the plate Jenna Torbert, Calah Bynum, Mackenzie Harkey and Debbie Jackson all have solid post-season numbers.
Torbert is the team leader in homeruns and in RBIs.
The Lady Knights are hoping their youthful enthusiasm and childlike faith carry them to a state title despite being significant underdogs.
The Knights feature no senior class and only have three juniors so their future looks very promising.
Defensively, coach Rick Brown feels a handful of players has led them on the season.
â€œIn the Cherryville game it was Calah Bynum. Meredith Towery has really eliminated her errors and has started playing real solid at second. Lindsey Smith at short and Jenna Torbert at catcher theyâ€™ve played real solid at very tough positions,â€ he said.
Brown is hoping for the important 10th man â€” the fans to once again make a mark.
â€œWe could use as many fans as possible up there at Raleigh. Cherryville and the Maiden game we actually had more fans there than either of their teams, and I know that really helped the girls. We appreciate the turnout,â€ he said.
When asked what needs to happen for the Lady Knights to have a legitimate chance, Baxter does not hesitate.
â€œWe just have to play like we have been playing, that our offense stays the way it is. Our defense and pitching we all do good. I think we can win it all,â€ she said.
Thatâ€™s a bold statement for a team with such little experience and tenure in the 1A State Playoffs.
But that type of confidence is exactly what the Lady Knights need if theyâ€™re going to do something thatâ€™s never been done in school history â€” win a state championship.by John Mark Brooks