FAIRMONT — After giving up a lead-off hit to former teammate Chay Lockler in the first inning, St. Pauls pitcher J.J. Oxendine settled in and showed resiliency.
In a meeting of the two top-seeded teams in the Robeson County Slugfest field, Oxendine wanted to take on the moment on the mound, and did so in commanding fashion.
“I told Coach Kelly (Chavis) that if we get to the championship to get me the ball, so I’m glad he gave me the ball,” Oxendine said. “I told the boys that if we minimize our errors we would come away victorious.”
The Bulldogs’ defense played nearly perfect behind Oxendine, and the game went just as he anticipated with a 2-0 win over top-seeded Purnell Swett to give St. Pauls its first Slugfest title since 1998 and third overall.
“I sent him a text last week and said ‘How much are you going to be able to give me?’” St. Pauls coach Kelly Chavis said. “And he said ‘I’m going to give you every time you call my number.’ That just shows the kind of fight that’s in that kid.”
For the second game in a row, St. Pauls (16-4) held its opponents to one hit. In pitching the complete-game one-hit shutout, Oxendine was named the Robeson County Slugfest MVP.
Oxendine held his own after giving up the lead-off hit to Locklear with four Rams getting on base the rest of the contest — one by error and three by walk. He also logged seven strikeouts.
“I knew he (Locklear) was going get some good hits because they’ve got good sticks,” Oxendine said. “I was trying to keep the ball low and outside.”
His ability to use his fastball and breaking ball kept the Swett (13-7) bats quiet and kept it from scoring a run, a feat that only Terry Sanford has done to the Rams this season.
“When you get one hit in a high school baseball game, you’re not going to win many of them,” Purnell Swett coach Bryan McDonald said.
St. Pauls gave Oxendine his support runs in the third and fourth innings, while the Rams went down quietly in the middle innings.
Kota Bullard reached on an error in the third inning and scored on an RBI double by Aaron Revels to left field to go up 1-0. The second run came the following inning as Darren Bowen’s bunt single sent Trevan Locklear home.
While St. Pauls took care of business when it had runners in scoring position, the Rams chances were few and were squashed out quick by Oxendine and the defense.
In the sixth inning, Purnell Swett had runners on first and second with one out. Mckinley Strickland grounded into a fielder’s choice to put runners on the corners with two outs, but Dakota Locklear followed up with a ground out to get the Bulldogs out of the inning.
“They played well and made the plays when they needed to make the plays. J.J. threw a heck of a ballgame and kept us off balance all night,” McDonald said. “That’s the story of the ballgame. We didn’t hit the ball.
“It was one of those nights when the little things don’t go our way, and they made the plays when they needed to make them.”
The celebration following the win goes farther than just winning three games in four nights for the Bulldogs in the tournament, but the start of the journey began back two seasons ago when one game didn’t go the Bulldogs’ way the entire season.
“It’s a hard three years because everybody picked on us because we went 0-fer. I don’t know any teams that went 0-fer in high school, but we bounced back,” Oxendine said. “I’m glad we had that year because if we didn’t we’d be a mediocre team. Since we had that we knew what it felt like and we didn’t want to go back to that season.”
“Those seniors could’ve went to any school in this county after that 0-20-some season. They could’ve left me, but they believe in me, just like I believe in them,” Chavis said. “Our younger kids, hopefully they’ll look at this and see it as a stepping stone and say that the older guys went through that adversity and paved the way for us and they can do it too.”
The win also was a bit sweeter as it avenged a 5-4 loss last year in the semifinals of the Slugfest, a game Purnell Swett won in nine innings.
“I’ve wanting them since we lost to them last year, I’m just glad we got to get them in the championship,” Oxendine said.
“They came in, I’m not going to necessarily say with a chip on their shoulder, but confident. They know they are a good baseball team and they know they can beat anybody,” Chavis said.
Revels had a pair of hits to lead all batters, while Bowen, Oxendine and Trevan Locklear each added one hit. Ted McNeill and Jeremiah Locklear were named to the all-tournament team.
Strickland and Ethan Chavis were Purnell Swett’s two selections for the all-tournament team. The Rams’ starting pitcher, Ryan Graham struck out nine batters in the loss.
Fairmont rides Thorndyke to top Pirates
Fairmont junior Seth Thorndyke led the Golden Tornadoes to a 7-3 win with his play at the plate and on mound.
Thorndyke led Fairmont (11-8) by pitching a complete game and going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a home run. Tyler Hodge had two hits and an RBI.
Thorndyke was named to the all-tournament team for the Golden Tornadoes and Brandon Norris picked up the same honor for the Pirates.
In the fifth-place game, South Robeson defeated Hoke County 8-7.
Zack Carter was South Robeson’s nominee for the all-tournament and Jamison Cummings was named to the team from Hoke County.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.