LUMBERTON — At points during the 2012 season, the Lumberton baseball team had troubles on the mound.
Then came Justice Sampson.
“We pulled him up because we needed a left-hander. We needed a different look,” Lumberton coach Paul Hodges said. “We were having trouble getting guys out and then all of a sudden, by the middle of the year as a sophomore, he was our closer, so we were just asking our two starters to do their best to get to the fifth inning, and he’d come in on Tuesday and Friday and shut the games down.”
It set the tone for the rest of his high school career, which included a Robeson County Slugfest MVP award, a no-hitter, and numerous accolades both on the regional and state levels.
Sampson will look for continued success next season when he continues his career at the NCAA Division I level at North Carolina Central University.
“It means a lot,” Sampson said. “Coaches are always pushing me to keep getting better and better and it gave me that chance.”
The senior showed versatility throughout his career, earning the closing role as a sophomore. He was a go-to in the starting rotation last year but moved back as the anchor of the bullpen this season, where he finished the games started by Evan Odum and Daniel Oxendine.
He finished this season with a 4-3 record that included three saves and a 2.50 ERA.
“His work ethic from 10th grade on has just been outstanding. He’s been one of our leaders,” Hodges said. “His accolades speak for themselves
Hodges said that Sampson caught the eye of the Jim Koerner and the Eagles’ coaching staff last summer in a showcase, where he shut down one of the top teams in the tournament.
“After that he was on him hard,” Hodges said.
Though Sampson got looked at by other schools, his high interest in N.C. Central was immediately apparent. He had two visits and made frequent contact with the coaching staff.
“Coaches talked to me almost every day my senior year,” Sampson said. “He liked me and I like the coach.”
“He pushes me to work over there.”
He joins an Eagles team that went 19-33-1 last year, which included matchup with Duke, East Carolina and other D-1 baseball schools within the state.
Sampson expects to be used as a starter, but, given his pedigree as a closer, is willing to work from the bullpen as needed.
“I’d like to mainly start but it’s up to coach where he wants to put me,” Sampson said. “I’ll go up and work hard and where he wants me is where I’ll be.”