RED SPRINGS — Standing at the podium in the Red Springs High School media center with three of his athletes sitting to his left, baseball coach Chris Howell gave the three departing seniors a message to take with them next year.
“Understand that now it’s time to roll up your sleeves, work hard and make us proud because the real work has just begun,” he said.
The message came in loud and clear to Phillip Locklear, Jordan Locklear and Tyee Sampson, who all signed their letters of intent to play college baseball next year in a ceremony on Monday. All three signed with in-state schools, with Jordan Locklear signing to St. Andrews University, Phillip Locklear with William Peace University and Sampson with Piedmont International University.
“I bring a hard work ethic and hopefully I will get better while I’m there,” Phillip Locklear said. “I learned here that I have to fight for my spot on the team. … I’ve got to do a whole lot more (next year). I’ve got a lot more ahead of me.”
Phillip Locklear was efficient in his innings on the mound with 11 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings as a reliever this season for the Red Devils. The Pacers will use him as a pitcher and outfielder, much like he played this season for Red Springs.
Having the ability to be close to home, but still away from home was one point of William Peace he was drawn to.
“I wasn’t really wanting to travel too far, and I was wanting to be able to come home on weekends and spend time with my family,” he said. “I like the size of the school and the student to teacher ratio.”
Jordan Locklear has been a mainstay at second base for the Red Devils for the last three seasons, and will look to take on that role for the Knights, along with several other goals he has set for himself.
“I’m going to go in and work hard and help them make the playoffs. This year they didn’t make the playoffs,” Jordan Locklear said. “I want to make them a playoff team.
“All the hard work and the summers playing travel ball paid off.”
He also said that having a familiar face in Maliq Johnson, a former Red Springs standout, made St. Andrews a good fit, along with it being close to home.
“I liked knowing I’ll get to play with a former player and just knowing someone there,” he said. “The drive from home to campus is easy.”
Howell saw Jordan Locklear grow as a leader the past three-plus seasons.
“I brought him up at the end of his freshman year to play second base and he’s been concreted there in that position,” he said. “He’s done well for us.
Transferring in this year from South Robeson, Sampson was the No. 2 starter behind Darren Bowen, and played his role well, while fitting Howell’s expectations.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I want to have the opportunity to play at the next level,’” Howell said. “I told him to do his part and I’ll do mine. He’s going to be a good left-handed pitcher at the next level.”
Sampson pitched 45 2/3 innings and struck out 27 batters. He had the third-lowest ERA on the team at 1.99 with one complete game under his belt.
“I know that I’ve got to hit the weights some, but I’m a good at pitching and I can hit my spots. I think I’m ready,” Sampson said. “I learned a lot from Coach Howell and it’s something I will never forget.”
Piedmont International is coming off its first season of baseball in 2018, and has former St. Pauls infielder Takoda Bullard on the roster.
“When I went there, it was just something about the school,” Sampson said. “I just got a feeling that it was where I was supposed to be. I felt at home there, more than I did at any other one.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.