Lake Norman Publications

Mustangs, Knights set for sensational late-season showdown



East Lincoln’s Trey Spees, left, and North Lincoln’s Kellen Karr are just two of the stars that will shine on the diamond Friday night. /Joan Moore

DENVER – Two of the top teams in the area that also happen to be bitter county rivals will clash on the baseball diamond at East Lincoln on Friday, April 19. The North Lincoln Knights – ranked No. 6 overall among all 3A West teams, according to MaxPreps – will take on the Mustangs, which happen to be the No. 2 overall team in that same ranking.

The two teams already played earlier this season, with the Knights (11-4, 5-2) earning a 4-3 victory in extra innings on their home field on March 20. The Mustangs (14-3, 6-2) have rattled off eight consecutive victories since that defeat nearly a month ago. 

As of the Citizen’s April 16 press deadline, East Lincoln sits atop the Western Foothills 3A conference standings, while North Lincoln is third at just a half-game back of the Mustangs and Foard. Both teams face tough tests prior to Friday’s showdown, with the Knights seeking to avenge an earlier loss at Foard and East Lincoln hoping to return the favor versus St. Stephens, which is the only league foe aside from North LIncoln to defeat the Mustangs this season. 

 

Knights

North Lincoln’s calling card is pitching and defense, with the Knights excelling in both areas. 

“We’ve had some games where things just happen to click for us offensively, but our approach is not to go out there and try to out-hit the other team,” North Lincoln head coach Charlie Goss said. “With our pitching and defense, we’re trying to win every inning 1-0 and if we end up doing better than that then so be it.”

The Knights boast two fantastic starting pitchers among their stable of arms, including junior Kellen Karr, whose statistics this season induce a double-take. 

Karr, a southpaw who stands at 6-foot-7, has allowed just three hits and only one run total in 24 innings on the mound. With 47 strikeouts to his name, he’s averaging nearly two per inning. 

“Him being a big presence on the mound definitely helps his cause,” Goss said. “He’s really able to come at the hitters from a different sort of depth than what they’re used to seeing from an average high school pitcher. But he’s not just a pitcher; he’s an athlete out there on the mound and he wants to win worse than anybody. Even if he wasn’t 6-foot-7 and all that, he’d still be a great pitcher just off of his desire to compete.”

Junior Brady Rinkus leads the Knights in innings pitched at 28 and boasts a 3-1 record with an even 2.00 earned-run average. Another junior, Jack Wuerdeman (1-1, 3.00 ERA), is back in the fold after dealing with a nagging injury and sophomore Cason McGinnis is the team’s primary closer, with a 1.71 ERA and two saves on the season.

Then there’s the defense, which buoys the pitching staff by making the routine plays and also mixing in some of the extraordinary variety. 

“I really feel good about every position we have on the field,” Goss said. “We’ve got true athletes out there; some who play multiple sports and some who play baseball year-round. When the guys around you are making plays, I think others just kind of become a product of that environment.”

Sophomore catcher Elliott Dellinger is a key piece of North Lincoln’s outstanding defense. /Joan Moore

Goss specifically highlighted three experienced returners who play up the middle in McGinnis – the team’s shortstop – catcher Elliott Dellinger and center fielder Chad Matthews. He also identified two newcomers at the corner infield spots – third baseman Tucker Sigmon and first baseman Blake Mincey – as guys who have stepped up to solidify the overall team defense.

The offensive numbers aren’t eye-popping, but three different Knights boast a batting average above .300, including Dellinger (.375), Matthews (.359) and McGinnis (.326). Matthews leads the team with 15 RBIs, while Sigmon is responsible for the only home run North Lincoln has hit this season.

Running the bases is what the Knights do best offensively, with North Lincoln having already swiped 56 bags as a team in 15 games. Ryan Bassani – a standout on the football field – leads the team with 13 stolen bases, while McGinnis is hot on his heels with 10. In total, 12 different players have stolen a base for the Knights this season. 

 

Mustangs

East Lincoln presents a different set of problems for opposing pitchers as its lineup is laden with sluggers capable of sending a ball flying over the outfield wall. Six different Mustangs have launched a home run this season, with senior shortstop Trey Spees setting the pace with five homers. 

“Spees is a four-year varsity letterman and a Western Carolina commit,” East Lincoln head coach Chris Matile said. “He does a great job at the plate, where he’s very comfortable and very confident. He’s one of those silent leaders who sets the tone through everything he does every day. I tell him all the time the thing that impresses me most is his intent and focus.”

The other big bat in the lineup is junior Evan Matile – the coach’s son – who leads the team in batting average at .491 and RBIs with 33. Matile has also hit four home runs on the season. 

“He had a big freshman year, but kind of an average sophomore season,” Matile said of his son. “He’s come back and put a lot of work in, so we’re really happy with where he’s at right now.”

Matthew Phuntek sets the tone at the top of the East Lincoln lineup. /Joan Moore

Junior Matthew Phuntek sets the table for the others as the leadoff batter, where he hits at a .468 average and leads the team with 16 stolen bases. Sophomores JT Roche and Brandon Washington have come into their own as regular fixtures in the batting order, while junior Dylan Scott has developed a knack for delivering the big hit. Even at the bottom of the order, Matile credited juniors Brody Hagen and Aden Tompkins for their ability to get on base and turn the lineup over.

The East Lincoln pitching staff is led by senior Carson Dahle, an ace who’s won four of his five starts on the mound while pitching to a 0.74 ERA. Dahle has only surrendered two earned runs in his 19 innings on the mound and has walked just five batters compared to 35 strikeouts.

“He’s been much more efficient in his last couple outings,” Matile said. “As a junior I think he was a little too focused on strikeouts rather than keeping his pitch count low and trying to work into the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. He’s a fierce competitor and he puts a lot of pressure on himself, which sometimes can be a positive and sometimes a negative, but he’s been a consistent guy for us his whole career.”

Two juniors – Barrett Erwin and Ty Davis – have stepped up to round out the staff. 

Erwin leads the team in strikeouts (40) and innings pitched (25.1), while posting a 1.66 ERA. 

Davis is 3-0 in eight appearances on the mound, including a pair of starts, while pitching to a 2.95 ERA. 

“Barrett and Ty have come in and the good thing about them is nobody really knew who they were,” Matile said. “They each saw a few innings on varsity last year, but these two kids really went at it last summer during the offseason and turned themselves into competitors on the mound. When they’re dealing and throwing strikes, they’re hard to hit with good velocity and good off-speed stuff.”

 

The game

The Knights and Mustangs will square off on Friday, April 19, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. at East Lincoln. The contest marks the final game between the two rivals on the regular season schedule.

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