RED SPRINGS — Close games have been the way the St. Pauls baseball team’s young season has started the season off, and Tuesday night against in-county rival Red Springs was no different.
The Bulldogs’ experience shined through a slow start on the road, and pulled out the gritty plays when needed for a 5-4 come-from-behind win to open Three Rivers Conference play.
“It’s nothing new for us. We’ve faced adversity and we know what struggles are going to be like,” St. Pauls coach Kelly Chavis said. “I’ve got a lot of three- and four-year varsity players so they just understand these types of situations and we talk about it all the time. You’ve got to battle until the end of the ballgame.”
After Red Springs (2-2) jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first inning, St. Pauls (4-0) fought back by capitalizing on errors and coming up with timely hits to start conference play on the right foot.
“This was a big game in terms of, it’s conference and it doesn’t matter who it is,” Chavis said.
In the third inning, St. Pauls chipped into the lead with two runs coming on a two-out error when Dawson Caulder hit a fly ball out to Nick Chavis in center field. Ted McNeill and Aaron Revels scored before Caulder was tagged out at second on the play as Red Springs was just the dropped ball away from getting out of a bases loaded with no outs situation in the inning.
Another two-out error struck the Red Devils in the fifth as Caulder lined a ball into right field that Caleb Locklear dropped to score J.J. Oxendine to make it a 4-3 Red Springs lead going into the sixth.
“You’ve got to make the plays, period,” said Red Springs coach Chris Howell. “Some of that falls back on me in certain situations. Youth is going to cause some of that and I knew that coming into it because we are a fairly young team.”
St. Pauls took the lead in the sixth after putting runners on second and third with two outs. A wild pitch allowed Kendall Locklear to tie the game and Revels followed up with one of his game-high two singles to plate Kota Bullard for the go-ahead run.
McNeill got the start on the mound for St. Pauls and battled with control early on, allowing Red Springs to hang three runs in the first, but settled in to pitch four innings and allow two hits, four walks and strike out five batters. Trevan Locklear came in relief and threw three no-hit innings with five strikeouts.
A bases-loaded walk allowed Red Springs’ first run to score with two outs in the first and then an error by Bullard allowed two more to score in the next at bat. Following the Bulldogs cutting the lead down to 3-2, the Red Devils added another run in the fourth with a RBI single by Chavis. That run-scoring hit and a single by Gabriel Locklear were the only hits Red Springs had in the game.
“It ain’t like we didn’t put a lot of balls in play because we did,” Howell said. “In my theory the lead off man has got to get on. Usually when that happens, good things happen behind him. … It’s just generating and putting it all together.”
St. Pauls travels to East Bladen today and Red Springs continues conference play with a road contest at East Columbus tomorrow.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.