GREENSBORO – The North Lincoln Knights capped an historic season in spectacular fashion, rallying from a 4-run deficit in Game 2 against Randleman to sweep the Tigers and bring home the 2A baseball state championship for the first time in program history.
Despite playing in just one of the two games, Knights’ ace pitcher Joey Cobb earned Most Valuable Player of the state championship series for his dominant performance on the mound in Game 1. Cobb, a senior who will continue his baseball career at Lenoir-Rhyne University, shut down a potent Randleman offense, allowing just four hits in a complete-game shutout while striking out 11.
After his high school career almost ended following a shaky start against Central Academy in the first round, Cobb was nearly unhittable throughout the rest of the playoffs. The southpaw capped his career by tossing 21 consecutive scoreless innings in leading North Lincoln to victories over West Stokes, West Lincoln and Randleman.
Cobb’s Game 1 performance is even more remarkable considering it came in the midst of a pitchers duel, with Tigers’ starter Matt Kemp matching him nearly pitch-for-pitch save for a clutch at-bat by Knights’ centerfielder Jake Soorus in the bottom of the third inning.
Freshman Landon Reeves worked a lead-off walk to start the home half of the third and promptly advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Sam Brady. Shortstop Matt Heavner followed with a bloop single to the outfield, but Kemp appeared primed to escape the jam after a strikeout, which set the stage for Soorus with two outs and two runners on. The junior slugger stepped to the plate and calmly worked a full count before scalding a line drive to the outfield that scored both runners, giving North Lincoln a 2-0 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Randleman wouldn’t go down without a fight, however, as a leadoff double in the top of the sixth brought the tying run to the plate. Cobb promptly fanned the next two batters before Kemp worked a two-out walk to bring Nick Neal, Randleman’s biggest bat, to the plate as the potential winning run.
Neal, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 270 pounds, is an imposing presence in the batters box, with the numbers – 10 home runs and 45 RBIs – to match his stature. Cobb never wilted, going right after the Tigers’ top power threat and sitting him down on strikes to end the inning.
Randleman brought the tying run to the plate once more with two outs in the seventh, but Cobb induced a ground ball for the final out to bring the Knights within one win of a state championship.
After a pitchers duel in Game 1, it was the North Lincoln bats that came to life late in Game 2 to rally from an early deficit and secure a state championship.
The Tigers jumped on the Knights early in Game 2, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first on a passed ball and Kemp’s RBI single.
North Lincoln responded immediately, loading the bases without recording an out to start the second inning. Reeves, batting in the nine-hole, was then hit by a pitch to force in a run, and Brady delivered an RBI single to tie the game 2-2.
The Knights found themselves in a hole once more, however, when Neal grounded into a fielder’s choice to put Randleman back on top in the bottom of the third. The Tigers would then tack on three more runs on a pair of singles to build a 6-2 lead through three innings.
Ever-resilient, North Lincoln battled back with another rally of its own in the top of the fourth. Soorus cut the deficit to 6-3 with an RBI single, and senior outfielder Jake Quilla served a single into right field to plate two more runs and trim the Randleman lead to 6-5.
Randleman pushed across an insurance run in the fifth to push its lead to 7-5, but the Knights scored two runs in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by starting pitcher Seth Whitley and RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of Soorus.
With runners on the corners and just one out in the bottom half of the inning, the Tigers appeared poised to regain the lead once more, but Whitley induced a ground-ball double play to end the frame and send the game to the seventh inning tied 7-7.
Reeves and Brady, the Knights who delivered North Lincoln’s first two runs, also delivered the crushing blows, as Reeves drove in the go-ahead run before being chased home on a double by Brady. The Knights took their first lead of the game at 9-7 in the seventh inning and Whitley made it stick, recording the final three outs to cement a complete-game performance on the mound and deliver North Lincoln’s first baseball state championship.