Robesonian

Purnell Swett alumni reunite in American Legion play

WHITEVILLE —It didn’t take long for McKinley Strickland to get comfortable when he took the mound for the Hope Mills Boosters on Wednesday.

With former high school teammate and fellow Purnell Swett graduate Bladen Strickland at catcher, McKinley didn’t have to worry about building chemistry with his batterymate.

“It brings back good memories from high school,” said McKinley, who currently plays for North Carolina A&T. “Having him back there makes me more confident on the mound. We have a great chemistry and connection back there.”

The night didn’t end as well as the duo hoped, as the Boosters fell to Whiteville 3-1 in an American Legion matchup at Legion Stadium. McKinley gave up one run on two hits while striking out three and walking four batters in three innings of work, throwing 63 pitches in that span.

He was relieved by Colby Bass, who yielded six hits and tallied two strikeouts in three innings.

Meanwhile, Whiteville’s Brooks Baldwin stifled the Hope Mills offense in his first pitching appearance of the summer.

Baldwin, a UNCW commit who primarily plays in the infield, threw a complete game for Whiteville. He allowed just two hits while logging seven strikeouts and walking two batters.

He silenced Hope Mills’ bats until Bladen Strickland got his team’s first hit of the night with a single in the fourth inning.

“I was confident because I was ahead in the count,” Bladen, a current player at Southeastern Community College, said of the at-bat. “Brooks is a good pitcher. He just got down.”

Hope Mills scored its first and only run of the night when an error on an attempt to complete a double play at first base allowed Colby Bass to score from third.

Whiteville rallied against McKinley Strickland for the first time in the third inning, drawing three walks and scoring its first run on an RBI groundout by Lumberton graduate A.J. Brooks, who also plays at SCC.

Brooks went on to finish 2-for-4 with a RBI.

“I felt really good when I came up,” Brooks said. “It was a pitcher’s duel for the first three innings. With a runner on third and one out, I was trying to hit something to the right side and get that runner in. I sacrificed myself for a run.”

Scott Bowen brought in Whiteville’s second run with an RBI double in the fourth inning, and the team’s final run came across the plate on a fielding error by Hope Mills in the sixth inning.

Miscues like that costly error haunted both sides in a game that Whiteville coach Jeff Lamb called his team’s worst defensive performance of the season.

“We’re in a situation where we’re playing every day, so you’re going to have a day where they show up and they’re just not on their game,” Lamb said.

Lamb said Baldwin’s performance on the mound was a bright spot for the team and noted how he kept his composure despite not being a routine pitcher.

“He hits his spots,” Lamb said. “It’s good stuff. Fun to watch.”

Bladen Strickland finished 1-for-2 with a walk for Hope Mills. While his team didn’t come away with a victory, he was happy to be reunited with McKinley on the field.

“It brings back memories. That’s my cousin, so it’s always good to catch him,” Bladen said.

Brandon Tester | The Robesonian McKinley Strickland takes a swing during for Hope Mills during an American Legion game against Whiteville on Wednesday while fellow Purnell Swett graduate Bladen Strickland, right, waits on third base. McKinley started on the mound and Bladen started behind the plate for Hope Mills, reigniting a strong connection that began at Purnell Swett.
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_DSC_0885_ne2018620214348853.jpgBrandon Tester | The Robesonian McKinley Strickland takes a swing during for Hope Mills during an American Legion game against Whiteville on Wednesday while fellow Purnell Swett graduate Bladen Strickland, right, waits on third base. McKinley started on the mound and Bladen started behind the plate for Hope Mills, reigniting a strong connection that began at Purnell Swett.

By Brandon Tester

Staff writer

Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or btester@robesonian.com. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.