RED SPRINGS — The No. 2 seed didn’t necessarily show it, but the Purnell Swett baseball team looked at itself as a bit of an underdog entering the 2014 Robeson County Slugfest baseball tournament.
After starting the season with eight straight wins, things turned for the worse as the Rams fell to 2-6 in conference play and entered the tournament on a four-game losing streak.
“I don’t think anybody but who’s inside the program knows the roller coaster ride we’ve been on,” Purnell Swett coach Bryan McDonald said. “We came out of the gate real strong, playing real well and then all of a sudden we hit a wall and we all of a sudden started looking for something bad to happen and it happened.”
The Rams seemingly put the rough stretch behind them, finishing the Slugfest with a 5-1 win against Fairmont on Wednesday in the tournament’s championship game. It’s the program’s first Slugfest title since 2007, though the Rams played for a title as recently as last year.
“Many people gave up on us,” said Ironeyes Locklear, who pitched the first six innings of the win and was named tournament MVP. “It means a lot winning the Slugfest, knowing we’re still a winning team.”
The final matchup pitted Locklear, whose pitching outings have been few and far between this year, against Fairmont ace Cole Lovin.
The two were locked in duel all night. In six innings, Locklear allowed five hits and two walks with six strikeouts. Lovin lasted 6 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts. The game simply came down to Swett finding the breaks it needed to such as a two-run single in the third and a rally that provided insurance runs in the seventh.
“What can you say? They were a team that was here last year, they knew what to expect, and we weren’t here last year, so I thought that played into it a little bit,” said Fairmont coach Sandy Thorndyke.
The small moments added up.
In the bottom of the first inning, the Golden Tornadoes sent leadoff hitter Ryan Mayers home on a grounder to second, the tag narrowly beating his head-first slide to the plate.
“It was bang-bang, could have went either way. If it happened to go our way it could have been a different ballgame,” Thorndyke said.
Instead, it allowed Swett to score first.
After two outs to start the third inning, Lovin had uncharacteristic struggles. He hit Locklear with a pitch, then walked Anthony Williamson and Austin Lee Locklear to load the bases. Jordan Swett capped it with a liner to shallow centerfield, scoring the first two.
“I kept fouling him off and I just kept trying to time (the pitch),” Swett said. “I finally timed it and got it.”
The Rams didn’t score again until the fifth, when Dakota Chavis tripled to right and was driven in on a single by Williamson. The two later had a similar situation as part of a two-run seventh.
Ironeyes Locklear had his struggles at points also.
In the fourth inning, he let a runner get to third with two outs, ending the inning when Gage Hardin got picked off at third on a throw from home. In the bottom of the sixth, he let Fairmont’s only run score on a one-out triple by Chance Leggett and eventually got the final two batters out.
“I was just focusing on getting a groundball to get out of the inning, relying on my team because when I’m pitching, I’m in control of the game and so are my teammates,” he said.
Fairmont had a chance until the final out. Tyler Musselwhite reached on an error and Julius Calder walked, which led to Ironeyes’ exit. Relief pitcher D.J. Lowry struggled out of the gate, throwing a wild pitch to start and hitting a batter two pitches later to load the bases.
With the tying run at the plate, Lowry struck out the next three batters.
“I just settled in,” he said.
It was only the second loss of the season for the Golden Tornadoes.
The majority of Red Springs’ offense Wednesday came with patience. The Red Devils walked 10 times and were hit by two pitches in Wednesday’s 13-3 win against Freedom Christian in the third place game, but most importantly, had the hits to bring those runners in.
“Even with the walks and stuff, when we did need to get hits — we had bases loaded and that kind of stuff — they came through,” said Red Springs coach Chris Howell. “That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to bring everything together.”
Though the game ended by mercy rule in the sixth inning, the Red Devils struggled out of the gate. Starting pitcher Brad Hardin only lasted one third of an inning, struggling with his control. He hit two batters and walked two and left after allowing two runs. Roosevelt Chavis picked up for him, holding the Eagles scoreless after the second inning.
Austin Deal threw the first two innings for Freedom Christian, allowing three runs off seven walks. His replacement, Branson Hayes, allowed 10 runs, only one of which was earned.
Red Springs broke away with a nine-run fifth inning that included 12 batters. A single by Nick Henderson in the sixth scored Nakoya Maynor to ended the game with one out.
After losing on the opening day of the Slugfest, the Lumberton baseball team relied on its pitching to win out and take fifth place after an 11-1 win against South Robeson on Wednesday.
The day after Daniel Oxendine threw a two-hit shutout, the Pirates rallied behind Evan Odum, who allowed three hits and a lone run in the first inning.
“Pitching was outstanding for us the whole tournament,” said Lumberton coach Paul Hodges
Oxendine continued his hot run at the plate, going 2-for-3 at the plate with a double, a triple and three runs scored. Raleigh Forrest went 1-for-1 with two walks and three runs scored. Devin Smith went 1-for-3 and finished with South Robeson’s only run of the game.
It was the first time since 2009 that Lumberton hadn’t played in the championship game. The Pirates took second place in 2010 and had won three Slugfests in a row.
West Bladen wins softball tourney
The West Bladen softball team rode starting pitcher Nicole Wyatt to its third straight Slugfest softball title.
The Knights took advantage of an injury to Fairmont pitcher Katelon Floyd, scoring five runs in the first and four in the sixth to win 14-4.
Wyatt pitched her third game in a row, allowing six hits and taking home tournament MVP honors. Floyd was unable to pitch after fouling a ball off her hand in her first at-bat, leaving freshman Harmony Oxendine to fill the pitcher’s circle.
West Bladen went up 5-2 in the first inning and never trailed afterwards. Courtney Thompson and Josie Ludlum each had home runs.
Tiffany Hicks led Fairmont with a 2-for-3 night that included a triple and Jill Goodyear went 2-for-2 with a double. It was Fairmont’s first Slugfest title game appearance.
South Robeson took advantage of errors to beat Purnell Swett 8-5 in the third place game.
The Mustangs scored four runs off two misplayed balls in the fourth inning to get the game-winning runs. Cangela Murphy went 3-for-3 with a double and three RBIs and Taylor Jacobs picked up the win on the mound.
Lumberton beat Terry Sanford 15-5 in the fifth place game.
The Pirates had a 3-for-3 day from Joy Church, who finished a home run short of the cycle. CeCe Campbell also finished 3-for-3 and had two RBIs as Lumberton strung together 12 hits and took advantage of five errors. Summer Prevatte picked up the win.