After winning the weather-delayed (from Friday night) first game of the playoff series for the NCHSAA 2A Baseball State Championship 2-0 behind the stellar pitching of Joey Cobb, North Lincoln found themselves in a huge hole. Starting pitcher Seth Whitley had given up two runs in the first inning, but the Knights came back in the top of the second to tie the score. Then in the bottom of the third, the Tigers scored four more to take a 6-2 lead.
In the top of the fourth, North Lincoln closed the gap to a single run, 6-5; but Randleman scored another run in the bottom of the fifth to give them a 7-5 lead. The Knights tied the score in the top of the sixth.
They finally won the game scoring two runs in the top of the seventh inning.
While their bats delivered the runs needed to win, the Knights' outstanding defense was the big difference in the game.
In the first inning when Randleman got two runs, they had a chance for more. Dominick Poole hit a fly ball to rightfield. Jake Quilla caught it for the second out; then threw Ramsey Petty out at home to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Randleman scored one run, then appeared likely to score another as Owen Strickland hit the ball to the outfield--but assuming the throw would be to the plate, he tried to stretch his single into a double and was thrown out at second base before the runner crossed the plate, leaving the score at 7-5.
Perhaps the biggest plays of the night were two double plays, both starting with Matt Heavner. In the bottom of the sixth, things weren't looking good for North Lincoln when Whitley hit a batter with a pitch after the first batter of the inning got on base when the throw to first sailed over Jake Soorus's head. That runner advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. Then the hit batter put runners on first and third with one out. That's when Heavner picked up a grounder and stepped on second, then threw to first for the double play that ended the inning.
The Knights scored two runs in the top of the final inning; then came the Tigers' last at-bat and the stage was set for Heavner's second double play. Randleman's first batter of the inning got on base, but Whitley struck out the next one. That brought Nick Neal, the 6'4" 270-lb slugger to the plate. Neal had hit 10 home runs this year. This time, he hit the ball sharply to Heavner, and another double play ended the game.
The win gave the Knights their first-ever State Baseball Championship. North Lincoln finished the year 26-6. The Knights won the Western Regional Championship for the first time in program history beating West Lincoln two out of three games the previous week.
Landon Reeves was ninth in the batting order--but he went 2 for 2, drove in two runs and scored two. Heavner had three hits in four at-bats. He scored twice. Sam Brady went 2 for 4 and drove in two runs. Quilla had only one hit, but also drove in two runs.
The series Most Valuable Player award went to Game One starting pitcher, Joey Cobb, who--like Whitley in the nightcap, threw a complete game. Cobb's four-hit shutout saw him strike out 11 Tiger batsmen while issuing just three walks. Whitley gave up eight hits on Saturday night, struck out only three batters, walked two and put three on base by hitting them with pitches; but he gave up only three earned runs and the seven he allowed wasn't enough for the opponents as the Knights' bats and outstanding fielding made the difference. He did what he had to do--and it was enough to come home with a State Championship.
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