PEMBROKE — Purnell Swett baseball senior McKinley Strickland described Thursday night’s Southeastern Conference game against Lumberton as a different feeling with all that was on the line.
“It’s an out-of-body experience knowing that we’re one win away from winning the conference title in our school’s history, and with senior night it was kind of emotional. It was kind of a controlled focus,” he said.
After all, it was his and eight of his teammates’ senior nights, with a chance to claim at least a part of the conference regular-season title for the first time in program history in coach Bryan McDonald’s last season and throw on top of all that a game against an in-county rival. Nonetheless, the seniors delivered for the Rams in a 7-0 win over Lumberton to clinch a share of the title with Pinecrest. A win tonight when the teams have their second game in as many nights against each other would seal the outright crown for Purnell Swett.
“It couldn’t be any sweeter,” McDonald said. “This is the group that we’ve been waiting on, this is the group that had me hang around for one more. I told the nine seniors at the beginning of the year that y’all would be graduating and I’m going to graduate and go out with you. I’m proud of our accomplishments.”
Strickland provided the power at the plate while senior and fellow North Carolina A&T signee Ethan Chavis had another strong outing on the mound for Purnell Swett (14-7, 7-2 SEC).
For the second straight outing, Chavis threw a complete-game shutout. Against Fairmont in the Robeson County Slugfest, Chavis threw a one-hitter, and against Lumberton (7-13, 4-5 SEC) he allowed two hits and struck out 12.
“The conference championship and going against your rivals, you want to go out with a bang,” he said. “I pitched my heart out. I started a little shaky, but I kept that drive and wanting us to win it.”
With Chavis working through a few kinks in the first few innings, the Rams posted five runs in the first two innings to give him run support. Strickland doubled in Brandon Brewer with an RBI double in the first and then Strickland scored later in the inning on Braydon Scott RBI double. In the second, a bases-loaded error from Dylan Bruce scored a run and two more came home in the next at bat on a Strickland single up the middle to put Purnell Swett up 5-0. Strickland led the game with three hits and three RBIs.
“We’ve all been hitting the ball well recently, and it’s a team effort,” Strickland said. “We just tried to help him out. Great senior night.”
Strickland and Chavis have been with McDonald throughout most of their time playing baseball at Purnell Swett, and winning the title for coach carries a lot of weight for them.
“We’ve been here since he’s been here and we want to hopefully win it for him and send him out on a high note,” Strickland said.
“Words can’t explain when you’re trying to make history for your school and history for your coach that’s coached you for three years,” Chavis said. “When you talk to him, that’s been a goal of his ever since he got here, to chance this school’s mindset around about baseball.”
Along with Strickland and Chavis’ contributions, other seniors stepped up in the win. Ryan Graham had two RBIs and Cal Hunt and Chay Locklear each added two hits.
“It’s a senior-led team, you can sure say that after the senior night ceremonies there wasn’t too many guys standing in the dugout,” McDonald said.
Lumberton’s two hits came from A.J. Brooks and Dylan Bruce as sophomore starter Seth Odum was jumped on from the start against the Rams. He allowed 11 hits and three earned runs in his five innings of work.
“He struggled at first,” Lumberton coach Jeff McLamb said of Odum. “I thought he settled in later on. They hit a bunch of ball early hard.”
McLamb sees the game as a role-reversal for the teams as the Pirates have their senior night today in the regular season finale.