DENVER – The Lincoln County Cardinals find themselves in the middle of the pack among Area IV Eastern Division teams through 10 games of the 2019 American Legion baseball season.
The Cardinals kicked off the season May 15 with an extra-innings loss to Hickory before splitting a doubleheader with Burke County to earn their first win. Back-to-back losses to Caldwell County and the Gaston Braves dropped Lincoln County to 1-4, but the Cardinals rattled off wins in three of their next four games before losing to Union County June 2 to fall to 4-6 overall.
Lincoln County has weathered its short-handed start, and now reinforcements are on the way. Trenton Wood and Tyler Cox, a pair of East Lincoln Mustangs who had their senior seasons of high school ball cut short by injury, each made their debut on the mound for the Cardinals in Sunday’s loss to Union County.
“Wood pitched an inning for us Sunday night and Cox threw about 35 pitches in that game as well,” Lincoln County head coach Bruck Bolick said. “It’s going to take time for those guys, though. One of them is coming back from an elbow injury and the other is recovering from a labrum, and if you read about it in the big leagues sometimes they say it takes a year to get back to what you were as a pitcher, but they’ll add some depth to our pitching staff.”
Wood and Cox, who are both right-handed pitchers, were dominant on the mound for the Mustangs as juniors in 2018.
Wood started eight games, posting a 1.62 earned-run average with 51 strikeouts in 43.1 innings. Cox, who started six games and appeared in seven others out of the bullpen, finished the season with a 1.60 ERA and threw a one-hit, complete-game shutout with 12 strikeouts against Newton-Conover.
The Cardinals’ pitching staff will also be bolstered by the addition of two North Lincoln Knights, who will join the team soon after winning the 2A state championship June 1.
Josh Allen, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher, won 7 games with a 1.44 ERA during his senior season while pitching mostly out of the bullpen. Allen threw a complete game in the deciding Game 3 against West Lincoln May 24 in just his second start of the season to send the Knights to the state championship.
Jake Quilla, a senior who served as a middle-of-the-order bat for the Knights, will also pitch some for the Cardinals. Quilla appeared in four games for North Lincoln in 2019, striking out 4 in 4.2 scoreless innings.
“Pitching is always something that you just can’t get enough of,” Bolick said. “That depth will be key because there’s a pitch count in American Legion baseball just like in high school. The more quality arms on your staff, the easier it is to navigate through the season.”
While the pitching staff is still trying to find its groove, the bats have been making noise for Lincoln County, which has scored at least 5 runs seven times in 10 games. The offense has been led by a pair of returning Cardinals in 2018 East Lincoln graduate Logan Philemon and David Borges, a 2018 graduate of North Lincoln.
“As far as position players go, this year’s group is the best I’ve had since the state tournament team in 2013,” Bolick said. “I mean that both defensively and offensively.”
Of its 10 games, eight have been decided by three or fewer runs, with Lincoln County posting a 4-4 record in those contests. Bolick says close games will be determined by pitching and defense.
“For us, the key is definitely playing good defense and continuing to build that pitching depth,” he said. “We’ve had to run out a lot of different pitchers early in the season, so getting back those two East Lincoln guys who have been rehabbing and having Quilla and Allen join us from North will definitely help.”
The Cardinals are nearing the midway point of the 2019 season and will hit the road to play Cherryville Sunday, June 9.