ST. PAULS — St. Pauls baseball coach Kelly Chavis channeled his inner basketball coach on Thursday night.
Following the Bulldogs’ 3-0 win over Currituck County in the second round of the NCHSAA 2-A state playoffs, Chavis was all about the numbers.
“I kind of pulled a (North Carolina men’s basketball coach) Roy Williams on them and did the math for them,” he said with a smile.
“We started out with 32 (teams) in the East. We’re down to 16, and after (the second round) there ain’t but eight left. It feels good to be one of the eight.”
Behind another dominant outing on the mound by J.J. Oxendine and timely hitting by Trevan Locklear, the fourth-seeded Bulldogs (21-4) advanced to the third round for the second consecutive season and secured their spot in the East region’s “Elite 8.”
St. Pauls will face the winner of No. 6 North Lenoir (19-6) and No. 10 East Davidson (15-8) on Tuesday.
The sixth inning of Thursday night’s game proved to be the difference for both teams as Oxendine navigated out of a jam and Locklear followed in the bottom half of the inning with a three-run double.
With a scoreless tie on the scoreboard entering the sixth, the 14th-seeded Knights (16-9) got their lead-off batter on and advanced him to second before Oxendine followed with a pair of strikeouts and pop up to get out of the pickle.
“We know J.J. is going to come through. That’s just J.J. — he’s one of the fiercest competitors that I’ve coached,” Chavis said. “I’ve coached some great players, but when it comes to competing there’s no other one like him.”
For Oxendine, it was all about making the Knights swing the bat.
“I knew it was a big inning for us and I just wanted to throw strikes,” said Oxendine, who pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and striking out seven batters.
“I’ve got the best defense in the world. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody. I just threw strikes and let them do work.”
The Bulldogs loaded the bases in the bottom half of the inning when Ted McNeill singled, Aaron Revels was plunked and Oxendine laid down a bunt single.
Locklear followed by giving St. Pauls all three of its runs with one swing of the bat, lifting the ball to centerfield for a bases-clearing double.
“I let him swing and it worked out for us,” Chavis said. “He got good wood on it and we had our top three runners on the bags, and for J.J. to read that and be right on Aaron’s heels was huge. I’m hoping for a four-run lead at all times, but I’ll take three.”
In addition to the big hit, Locklear came in to relieve Oxendine for the final out in the seventh. It was a night to remember for the junior utility player.
“I was just trying to drive it so I could drive in the runs and help us get this win,” Locklear said. “It was nerve-wracking (coming in to pitch) because I was wanting J.J. to get his shutout. But I came in and did my job.”
Oxendine and McNeill logged two hits each for the Bulldogs, who finished with their second straight shutout.
As he looks ahead to the third round, where the road ended last season at South Columbus, Chavis said this year feels different.
“We’re a better team this year,” he said. “We’re not going to hit home runs, but we’re going to put the ball in play and put pressure on you. We feel like our pitching staff is stronger than it was last year. We feel that can keep us going.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.