With a constant “Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” from the Lincoln dugout, it sounded more like a flock of birds roosting than baseball players talking up their team.
But the “birds” suited up in the red, white and blue Lincoln County uniforms proved they could back up their tweeting on the diamond Tuesday night as they eliminated rival Boyle County 4-1 in the semifinals of the 45th District Tournament at LCHS.
A big third inning provided Lincoln with all the runs it needed to knock out Boyle for a second straight year, and the Patriots backed up the offensive surge with solid defense.
“We prepared well for this,” Lincoln coach Brad McNew said. “I told the boys it was like a heavyweight fight, and we just had to win each round. We got our points all in one round. We punched them and they came back and got us there a little bit but we continued on and got the win, and that’s what’s important.”
“We beat a good Boyle County team. They are always a tough out.”
Lincoln improved to 20-16 with the win to advance to Wednesday night’s district final against Danville. Boyle closes the season at 19-15.
“It’s that time of year where, if you don’t win, you’re done and we didn’t want that to happen to us,” said McNew. “We knew if we wanted to keep our season going that we had to be better today and we were.”
Lincoln scored all its runs in the top of the third, getting four runs off three hits on Boyle’s Casey Whittle.
Tanner Leigh got on base for Lincoln in the third on a one-out walk and moved around to third on a Michael Wilcher double to right field. Both runners were moving on a Nick Smith sacrifice out, with Leigh crossing home plate and Wilcher going to third. Whittle hit Vinny Morris to put runners on the corners then Ryne Otto singled to drive in Wilcher. Chase Pemberton then followed with a double to deep center field to get courtesy runner Nolan Sanders and Otto both home for a 4-0 lead.
Whittle, who allowed seven hits with one walk, one hit batsman and six strikeouts in six innings up, got John Day to pop out to end the inning.
“Whittle had that one inning that we got him. We had guys getting hits tonight that hadn’t had a hit in a long time,” said McNew. “They got some good licks there in that one inning and gave us that 4-run lead that I like to have.”
Having a 4-run advantage on Boyle that early in the game was no guarantee of victory, and McNew made sure Lincoln didn’t slack off its game.
“I told them before the game that we’ve got to be up the whole way,”¿he said. “First pitch to last pitch we have to be up because you never know what can happen. And I kept reminding them. Once we hit them in the mouth, we had to make sure they didn’t hit us back.”
Boyle did take a swing on Lincoln in the final four innings, landing a blow in the sixth, but the Patriots countered with strong defense to hold the Rebels off.
Kody Ross, who tagged two of Boyle’s five hits off Lincoln’s Zach Brown, connected for a one-out triple to right field in the bottom of the fourth only to be left standing. Brown struck out Josiah Robbins then Wilcher gloved a Clay Young fly out to get out of the inning.
Connor Blevins got a two-out double to right in the fifth inning and he too was left on, as John Day got Brent Jones on a ground out to end the inning.
In the sixth, Boyle finally broke on the scoreboard. Jacob Preston connected on a one-out single to reach then, after a Ross fly out, he made his way home off a Robbins’ RBI double to make it 4-1. Robbins was left stranded with Day getting Young on a ground out.
“Our defense has been tremendous all year long. That’s been the backbone,” said McNew. “Zack Brown threw the ball tremendously tonight. When Zack’s on the mound defensively, we’re as good as we can get. Once we got the lead it was huge. He was able to just go pitch and continue to pound the zone.”
“The defense did their job. John Day making plays in the infield, Michael Wilcher in outfield ... all the way around they played well,” he said. “One big error in any of those innings, it could have opened a flood gate but we were able to not let that happen.”
Lincoln’s defense needed just one more big inning in the bottom of the seventh to secure the win. And the Patriots delivered.