LUMBERTON — Warming up in the bullpen before the game, Dakota Locklear said he felt his pitching was going to work for him, and it showed on the mound on Saturday against Lumberton to open the Robeson County Slugfest for both teams that came into the tournament struggling.
With Locklear dealing on the mound, the Rams scored runs off Lumberton miscues in the first and fourth innings en route to earning a 4-1 win over their rivals on the Pirates home field, and match their win total coming into the tournament with the victory.
“We scored a couple runs and put the pressure on them,” Purnell Swett coach Jeff Lamb said. “When we played Richmond with that nine-inning game, he (Locklear) threw like 80-some pitches and went as long as a starter so he’s been through that before.”
Known as the No. 3 starter for the Purnell Swett pitching staff, Locklear gave a valuable lift to the Rams to assure that they have two games left for starters Nos. 1 and 2 — Jeremiah Locklear and Eugene Wilkins — when the tournament resumes tomorrow. For the Rams, that will be at 7 p.m. against top-seeded Hoke.
Locklear tossed six innings and allowed three hits, two walks and fanned eight batters in the process.
“I was just trying to keep the game where we could get it and get the W at the end,” Locklear said. “I felt pretty good and I was just trying to throw for outs.”
The Rams gave him early run support in the first inning in unconventional fashion. With Braydon Scott standing on second base, Noah Evington struck out swinging and ran to first base after the dropped third strike where he collided with Lumberton’s Austin Gist on first, who completed the out. Gist laid on the ground after the collision and Scott came around to score.
With Locklear cruising in the middle innings nursing a one-run lead, a Lumberton mistake doubled the lead in the fourth inning. Purnell Swett put runners on the corners in the frame, and after a pickoff attempt to first, the throw back to Parks Ledwell on the mound was off, allowing Evington to advance 90 feet from third base.
“That run right there that scored where the pitcher missed the ball, that was big,” Lamb said.
With those runs coming, Locklear retired 15 of the 16 batters he faced from the second inning through the sixth inning.
“Just like always, I just try to throw strikes and pitch for outs,” Locklear said. “It feels like everything is going right. It’s just baseball.”
Lumberton coach Jeff McLamb said the lack of offense only put more pressure on a defense that struggled at times to make the plays.
“It feels like our pitcher has to go out there and throw a complete game shutout for us to have any chance to win with the way we are swinging the bats,” McLamb said. “We are struggling with the bats. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Two more runs came from the Rams in the bottom of the fifth inning on a Scott RBI single and a sacrifice fly from Chandler Brayboy took the lead out to 4-0.
Coming into the tournament with one loss and feeling overlooked was a driving force for the Rams, using it as a chip on their shoulders to prove that they are better than their record after playing the toughest schedule in the state, according to MaxPreps.
“We know we’ve played better competition than anybody,” Lamb said. “We aren’t going to seen anything that we haven’t already this year. All we’ve got to do is take care of business and we will be fine.”
With four runs to his credit and only one being earned, Ledwell had a solid outing, according to McLamb. Like Locklear, the junior allowed three hits and had 12 strikeouts to help keep pace for his team that was unable to plate a run until the top of the seventh inning.
“I was pleased with his performance. He pitched well like he has here in the last few outings,” McLamb said.
Scott had a pair of hits to lead Purnell Swett, and Gist had two hits as well for the Pirates that take on West Bladen tomorrow at 1 p.m. in an elimination game.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.