RED SPRINGS — The Purnell Swett baseball team didn’t enter the 2014 Robeson County Slugfest on the streak it had hoped. In the eight games prior to the tournament, the Rams had gone 2-6 in league play with four straight losses.
But Tuesday made coach Bryan McDonald a bit happier as the Rams beat Freedom Christian 7-4 to advance to the Slugfest championship game for the second year in a row.
“This is the best ball game we’ve played in three weeks,” McDonald said. “We changed some things up as far as what we were doing, tried to deal with some things we were doing well, tried to deal with some things we weren’t doing well. It’s the best baseball game we’ve played in a while.”
With a focus on two points of emphasis — pitching and getting ahead early.
The offense came early with the leadoff duo of Ironeyes Locklear and Anthony Williamson getting a single and a walk in the bottom of the first inning. The two both came around and scored on a single by Granston Locklear.
Purnell Swett never lost the lead.
“We scored early and that’s the key to this ball club, if we score early we seem to play pretty good defensively,” McDonald said. “It seems to set the stage. We scored early and just rode it out from there.”
The pitching helped as the Rams got a complete-game outing from Jordan Swett, who allowed six hits and one earned run.
McDonald said Swett has been a reliever recently and hadn’t many recent opportunities to start. In his return to the role, the coach felt he looked “rested.” Swett retired 11 of the first 12 batters and didn’t allow a run until the fifth inning, at which point the Rams were already up 7-0.
“I thought his velocity was really high in the first few innings and it went down some because he was getting tired but that’s understandable,” McDonald said. “He had command of the strike zone for the most part, he cut down his walks and because of that they had to put the baseball in play.”
The Rams finished with nine hits, led by two each from Ironeyes Locklear, Williamson and Granston Locklear.
Clay Ewing took the loss for Freedom Christian, allowing seven runs on seven hits in four innings pitched. He was also his team’s top hitter, going 2-for-4.
The two-win streak is the first time that Purnell Swett has won two in a row since beating West Brunswick and Scotland on March 19 and 21. Williamson and Ironeyes Locklear said it’s been a boost.
“We’re finally playing as a team,” Williamson said.
A win tonight against Fairmont would give the Rams their first Slugfest title since 2007.
“We’re losing during conference and then to come into Slugfest predicted to lose and we’re winning, it feels good,” Ironeyes Locklear said.
Fairmont 13, Red Springs 3
After the second day of the Slugfest, Fairmont coach Sandy Thorndyke kept going back to one word: Better.
After struggling to close out Monday against South Robeson, the Golden Tornadoes took advantage of Red Springs’ miscues to win 13-3 in five innings and advance to their first Slugfest title game since 2011.
“We hit the ball better, we played better defense, we pitched it better,” Thorndyke said. “We looked more ready to play tonight.”
The game started 15 minutes due to concerns about the weather. Rain started falling in the early innings, forcing spectators to hide underneath umbrellas and the overhang of the roofs of buildings around the complex, though no delay was ever called.
Even with the conditions, the Golden Tornadoes had 11 hits and took advantage of early errors to score all 13 runs in the first three innings.
Fairmont started the bottom of the first with a six-run first inning, all with two outs. The inning started with three singles, and included two batters in a row that reached on dropped third strikes and later scored.
“We just dug ourselves in a hole that first inning. Too many mistakes,” said Red Springs coach Chris Howell. “When your pitcher strikes people out, you’ve got to get them out.”
Fairmont’s lead got up to 10-0 in the second before Red Springs scored its three runs in the third.
Fairmont pitcher Julius Calder pitched himself out of multiple jams, including one in the final inning, when Red Springs threatened to narrow the lead. Maliq Johnson hit a triple to lead off the inning, but Calder forced a line out, a strikeout and a fly out to end the game.
The triple was one of three hits allowed by Calder, whose curveball was limited by the rain. Thorndyke praised the freshman pitcher for his maturity.
Alec Brewington led Fairmont with a 3-for-3 day, scoring after each trip to the plate.
The Golden Tornadoes will play Purnell Swett tonight at 7 p.m. in the championship. Red Springs vs. Freedom Christian will play at 4 p.m. in the third-place game. Fairmont’s last Slugfest title came in 1997, when now-professional golfer William McGirt was named tournament MVP.
Lumberton and South Robeson both got solid pitching performances to advance to today’s fifth-place game.
The Pirates beat St. Pauls 11-0 in five innings and the Mustangs won 6-2 against West Bladen.
Lumberton pitcher Daniel Oxendine threw a complete game, allowing two hits with six strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter. He also thrived at the plate with a two-run home run and two walks.
Devin Smith struck out seven against West Bladen, throwing complete game with no walks and six hits allowed. Teammate Corbin hunt went 2-for-3 with a triple to pace the Mustang offense.
Fairmont put an end to Purnell Swett’s run of Slugfest title games, beating the Rams 9-5 in the late game on Tuesday.
The Rams had been in every tournament championship game since the girls tournament started in 2010.
With the win, Fairmont softball coach Cindy Thorndyke will join her husband, baseball coach Sandy, as the first husband and wife to coach in a Slugfest championship game on the same day.
The Golden Tornadoes will play West Bladen, who beat South Robeson 6-1 on Tuesday, in the title game at 7 p.m. The Knights have won the tournament the last two years in a row.
Purnell Swett and South Robeson will play at 4 p.m. in the third-place game. Lumberton and Terry Sanford will play in the fifth-place game at 1 p.m.