PEMBROKE — Entering his first year at the helm of the Purnell Swett baseball team, Jeff Lamb know the Rams have plenty of work to do if they want to repeat as conference champions.
Lamb’s squad includes players with limited varsity experience as well as transfers trying to find their roles with the team.
“Basically, we’re in a rebuild,” Lamb said. “They won the conference last year, but I think they had eight seniors that graduated. I think I have three guys with varsity experience. It’s a rebuild process, but these guys as a jayvee team were very successful.”
Lamb, who coached at Williams Township Elementary in Columbus County last year after serving as West Columbus’ head coach from 2013 to 2016, said the players need time to become familiar with his style, and vice versa.
“We’re in a learning curve,” Lamb said. “They’re learning me and I’m learning them. We’re in that process.”
Jeremiah Locklear, a pitcher and infielder, joins Lamb as a newcomer to the program, after transfering back to Purnell Swett from St. Pauls. Locklear will be relied upon to excel in a variety of roles for the Rams.
“It feels good,” Locklear said of his new team. “I’ve known them since I was little, so it’s been fun.”
Several of the team’s 15 upperclassmen have taken on significant roles for the Rams in previous years.
“We just have to get our head in the game. We have to care a little more,” said junior Chandler Brayboy. “We’re a good team, we just have to learn to use it (the talent) and put it in the right spots.”
Brayboy and Dakota Locklear are two consistent starters from last year.
Lamb listed Locklear and Eugene Wilkins as the players who will lead the team’s starting rotation.
As a freshman last season, Locklear was the No. 1 pitcher for St. Pauls and was the county freshman of the year.
“Last year I was good and this year I fell off, so I have to get better like I was last year,” Locklear said.
Lamb said he prefers it if success is achieved through a team effort, rather than a handful of players carrying the team.
“I just want the team to come together,” Lamb said. “I’m not an individual guy.”
Experienced roster builds excitement for Lady Rams
The Purnell Swett softball team has nine returners on its roster, and head coach William Deese thinks that factor will help the Lady Rams this season.
“I’ve got a lot of experience finally,” Deese said. “I’ve had some girls for four years, some girls for three years, so I’m expecting big things out of them. I think we’re going to bring the experience we need get them through this tough conference we’re in.”
Freshmen MariJo Wilkes and Torrie Butler are the only two players who aren’t upperclassmen on Purnell Swett’s roster, which includes 16 athletes.
The Lady Rams finished with a record of 7-16 last season, including a 1-9 clip in the Southeastern Conference. Junior pitcher JaiLeanna Deese returns as the top pitcher and hitter, after two all-county caliber years for the Lady Rams.
Senior infielder Kaitlyn Hunt is looking to continue her success after finishing with a team-high .373 batting average and 11 doubles last season.
“We’ve been together for a long time, so I think it’s going to be a good season,” Hunt said. “I think we’re going to be pretty good.”
Senior Madison Strickland, an infielder and pitcher, is also expected to be a leader for the Lady Rams after batting .321 and scoring 13 runs last season.
“We’re a lot closer this year than we have been in the past,” Strickland said. “Even with the seniors leaving last year, and with a lot leaving this year, we’ve grown close. We’re doing everything together as a team. Everyone’s really excited.”
William Deese said defense will be the team’s biggest strength this season.
“We’ve always been pretty sound defensively,” Deese said. “I had three outfielders graduate last year, so we had some big shoes to fill, but the ones that I have know are going to step into those shoes.”
“Our defense is a lot better this year,” Strickland said.
Deese said the returners will play key roles for the Lady Rams this season, and the team should do well if those players live up to their expectations.
“I’ve got six seniors, so my seniors will stand out,” Deese said. “I hope all of them come step up and do their jobs. I think we’re going to be OK once they get going.”
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Tester_Brandon.