GREENSBORO—The North Lincoln Knights finished off an incredible run with a two-game sweep of East Regional champion Randleman to claim the 2A state championship Saturday at UNC-Greensboro.
North Lincoln overcame a 4-run deficit in the deciding game two, outscoring the Tigers 7-1 over the final four innings for an exciting 9-7 win to capture the school’s first state baseball title, and the first for Lincoln County since 1995.
“To a degree, it hasn’t sunk in yet,” said North Lincoln head coach Jon Carpenter. “To experience this with these kids is amazing.”
After all of the NCHSAA championship games at each site were washed out on Friday night, the Knights finally took the field for Game 1 of the best-of-3 series Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.
Senior Joey Cobb had a dominating pitching performance in the series opener, leading North Lincoln to a 2-0 victory with a complete-game shutout. The lefthander scattered four hits, while striking out 11 Randleman batters and walking three. Cobb, who was named the 2A State Championship’s Most Valuable Player, allowed just two Tiger baserunners to reach second base the entire game.
Junior centerfielder Jake Soorus provided all the offense the Knights would need in Game 1. After Landon Reeves walked to start the bottom of the third inning and Matt Heavner singled with one out, a wild pitch allowed both runners to get in scoring position. Then with two outs and a 3-2 count, Soorus connected on a two-run single that gave North Lincoln what would be the only runs of the first contest.
From that point on, Cobb retired 12 of the final 17 batters that he faced to close the door in the opener. Cobb even worked around a leadoff double and a walk in the sixth, but recorded three strikeouts in the inning to escape trouble.
“He’s (Cobb) a competitor,” Carpenter said. “He wants the ball in his hands, and he hates to lose.”
In addition to Soorus and Heavner, Seth Whitley and Daniel Carter also hit safely for the Knights in Game 1. Brooks Brannon had two of Randleman’s four hits, and starter Matt Kemp took the loss on the mound.
The second game of the day provided more offense from both sides and several momentum swings.
After North Lincoln stranded a pair of runners in the top of the first inning, the Tigers struck early for a 2-0 lead. Owen Strickland led off with a single, then later scored on Kemp’s RBI base hit, and Ramsey Petty, who was hit by a pitch, scored the second run on a wild pitch.
The Knights tied the score in the top of the third when Tanner Brumfield and George Fox reached on back-to-back walks to start the frame and Daniel Carter reached on an error to lead the bases. Reeves was then hit by a pitch to force home a run, and Brady’s RBI single tied the game at 2-2.
However, Randleman answered with their biggest inning of the series.
An RBI groundout off the bat of first baseman Nick Neal scored Strickland to give the Tigers back the lead, and Dominick Poole followed with a 2-run single to extend the lead to 5-2. Connor Sterling followed with a run-scoring base hit to make it a 6-2 game.
But North Lincoln refused to go away. The Knights put 3 runs on the board in the fourth inning capped by a 2-run single from Jake Quilla. Reeves, Heavner and Soorus all scored in the inning to close the gap to one.
And after Randleman got an RBI single from Poole in the fifth to push their lead to 7-5, North Lincoln kept the pressure coming. Heavner followed a Brady walk with a double to start the sixth, and Whitley’s sacrifice fly RBI trimmed the lead to one. Soorus followed with a groundout to the right side of the infield that scored Heavner to tie the game at seven all.
Then with the Tigers threatening in the sixth inning with runners at first and third and one out, Heavner came up with a defensive gem that may have been the play of the day. The freshman shortstop snagged a line-drive up the middle on the short-hop, stepped on the second-base bag and threw to first to complete the inning-ending double play to keep the game tied heading to the seventh.
Once again, the Knights rallied. With two outs and nobody on, Daniel Carter reached on an infield error. After stealing second base, Carter came in to score the go-ahead run on Reeves RBI single to give North Lincoln their first lead of the game.
Reeves then used his speed to swipe second base, and Brady doubled him home with an insurance run and a 9-7 lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, Whitley, the Knights starting pitcher, completed a gutsy performance. The sophomore hit Petty with a pitch to start the inning, but followed with a strike out of Kemp and a series-ending 6-4-3 double play to secure North Lincoln’s first baseball state championship.
When it looked a couple times like Whitley would have to be lifted for a relief pitcher, Carpenter elected to stay with the righthander and it paid off. Whitley allowed just one Randleman run over the final four innings to pick up the Game 2 win.
Heavner was terrific for the Knights, going 3 for 4 with a walk in the second game to go along with his defensive play. “He (Heavner) dedicates himself to getting better,” Carpenter said. “He’s a smart kid.” Brady added two hits in the game for North Lincoln, and Reeves reached base in three of his four plate appearances, scoring twice.
“It’s nice to have 9 players that know what to do in each situation,” said Carpenter on the success of his team. And I’ve got real good assistants. The past 3 to 4 years, we’ve taken steps up.”
Randleman 000 000 0 - 0 4 1
North Lincoln 002 000 0 - 2 4 0
WP: Joey Cobb LP: Matt Kemp
North Lincoln 020 302 2 - 9 7 2
Randleman 204 010 0 - 7 8 3
WP: Seth Whitley LP: Dominick Poole