06/05/09 — No. 3-ranked Cats have long journey

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No. 3-ranked Cats have long journey

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on June 5, 2009 1:46 PM

The road to a state baseball championship has been long and trying for Lake Norman's 10 seniors.

The Wildcats made their first-ever appearance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A playoffs in 2007, just five seasons after the school opened its doors. Lake Norman finished 14-10 that year and lost an opening-round postseason game.

One year later, the Cats compiled a 13-14 record and advanced to the western quarterfinals.

Fast forward to this season.

Lake Norman is 26-2, ranked No. 3 statewide and will face No. 5-ranked Eastern Wayne in the state championship series beginning today. Weather permitting, Game 1 is 8 p.m. at Five County Stadium in Zebulon.

Catawba signee Nick Lomascolo, who will start tonight, has anchored the Wildcats' pitching staff all season. The left-hander is 8-2 with a 1.79 ERA and relies on breaking pitches to finish off batters.

Wildcats head coach Robert Little has also relied on another Catawba signee, Ross Whitley, who is 6-0 with a 0.49 ERA. Scottie Williams (8-0, 0.97 ERA) and Tyler Thurber have also seen action out of the bullpen.

"We like to mix left-handers and right-handers and try to get good match-ups for us," said Little. "We're deep in arms and the quality of my first four is pretty legit."

Senior right fielder Donnie Burt leads Lake Norman offensively with a .400 batting average to go with 17 RBI and four home runs. Catcher Joe Faist brings a .347 average and 16 RBI into the state finals.

Shortstop and lead-off hitter Kevin Gradert is hitting .329 and has stolen a school-record 21 bases this season.

Lake Norman has shown a flair for postseason comebacks. The Wildcats rallied past rival East Rowan in the western regional semifinals. In Game 2 of the western championship series against Tuscola, Lomascolo delivered the game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.

"A lot of hard work has gotten us there," Little said. "We've won a lot of close games. It's fun when you are on this end of the games."

Eastern Wayne (25-4) has posted comeback victories in four of six games during its playoff run. Warriors head coach Jabo Fulghum anticipates a back-and-forth battle this weekend.

"We expect a dogfight," said Fulghum. "We know we're going to be facing a good ballclub. They're a very scrappy bunch. We've got to go ready to play, ready to swing the bats and put pressure on them."