FAIRMONT — Coming into this year, Jeremiah Locklear had no clue how valuable he would be to the pitching staff for the St. Pauls baseball team.
Being just a freshman, he never thought about being the No. 1 pitcher for the Bulldogs’ staff, but on Monday the rookie standout continued his dominance on the mound.
“I thought I was going to be like the third starter and stuff, but I shocked everybody,” Locklear said. “Shocked everybody in Robeson County and Columbus County. I’ve just shocked the world.”
On a stage where he could “shock” the Robeson County baseball following, Locklear pitched a gem to lead St. Pauls to a 9-1 win over Lumberton in the Robeson County Slugfest semifinals at Fairmont High School.
Locklear pitched six innings, allowed one hit and struck out eight batters.
“They thought I couldn’t do this, but I surprised a lot of them,” he said. “I did have any nerves. I just felt good and felt like a normal game.”
The win secures St. Pauls’ (15-4) first Slugfest title appearance since 2007, and the Bulldogs will play Purnell Swett at 7 p.m. in search of their first title since 1998.
While the play of Locklear against the Pirates (7-11) might have been surprising to some, St. Pauls coach Kelly Chavis sees that as the norm for his young ace. Locklear is 6-1 on the year.
“Jeremiah has great composure to be a 14-year-old kid,” Chavis said. “We know he’s going to give us a chance to win every time we run him out there.”
To go along with Locklear dealing on the mound, the Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead with its offense that took advantage of six batters getting on by either a walk or a hit by pitch in the first two innings. A fielding error by Tyler Jacobs allowed the first St. Pauls score in the first inning. Back-to-back hit batters set up a three-run homer by Ted McNeill in the third inning to push the Bulldogs’ lead to 4-0.
“The hits may not show up, but we put the ball in play and made some things happen,” Chavis said. “We’re going to take what you give us. They threw in a few walks, mixed in a few hits and it was a good result for us.”
St. Pauls had five hits in the game.
McNeill had a game-high two hits and three RBIs for St. Pauls. J.J. Oxendine added a hit and two RBIs and Trevan Locklear and Connor Harris each had an RBI.
Both McNeill and Oxendine are at the core of the seven-player senior class that has went from a 0-21 record in 2015 to a conference-title contending team this year, and revenge is on their minds after a 5-4 loss to Purnell Swett in nine innings in the Slugfest semifinals last year.
“They’ve definitely been through a lot,” Chavis said of the seniors. “They feel like they should’ve been there last year so we kind of have unfinished business. That’s the way we feel.”
Brandon Norris had the Pirates’ lone hit. Kris Allen scored the Lumberton run in the top of the seventh after Logan Odum hit a grounder. Lumberton plays Fairmont in the third-place game today at 4 p.m.
Chavis guides Rams to fifth straight title appearance
Ethan Chavis played with a chip on his shoulder on Monday against Fairmont.
The chip that was placed there as the Purnell Swett left-handed pitcher walked off the mound in the Slugfest championship game, a game which Fairmont won, two years ago. And as his high school career is drawing to a close, Chavis flicked that chip off after a near-perfect performance on the mound against the Golden Tornadoes.
“That game right there is my redemption for sophomore year,” he said, “because Fairmont took me off the mound and beat me 5-2. I’ve just had a chip on my shoulder and wanted to come back after them.”
The Rams are back in a familiar position with a fifth straight appearance in the championship game against St. Pauls today, following a 7-0 win over the Golden Tornadoes in the semifinals.
“I hope it shows that we play at a level that at the top of the county, and it shows the success that we’ve got at Purnell in the last five years,” coach Bryan McDonald said. “He (Chavis) was dominating tonight. He was dominating from the beginning to the end.”
Chavis outing on the mound included one hit, 12 strikeout and one walk in his seven innings.
“I just tried to pound the zone early and often,” Chavis said. “I stayed low so they didn’t get squared up on them and tired to keep the contact limited.”
Purnell Swett (13-6) gave Chavis early run support with two runs in the first inning and one run in the second. Cal Hunt had an RBI double to left field to score Chay Locklear, two batters in the game and a second run came home in the first inning after a bases-loaded walk. An RBI groundout from Chandler Brayboy in the second inning scored Bladen Strickland.
After going down in order in the third and fourth innings, Purnell Swett used the long ball to revive the offense. Mckinley Strickland and Dakota Locklear had back-to-back home runs in the fifth to take the lead out to 7-0.
Fairmont (10-8) was far from perfect on both sides of the ball, but a costly error with two outs in the fifth inning could’ve kept the score a little closer.
“The final score should’ve very easily been 3-0, but we misplayed a couple fly balls with two outs and then they hit back-to-back home runs,” Fairmont coach Sandy Thorndyke said.
All the games on the winners’ side of the bracket have went chalk and now McDonald knows what is needed for his team to repeat as Slugfest champions against St. Pauls.
“St. Pauls is a good baseball team and it will be a challenge for us,” McDonald said. “We’ve got to come out and play well. Ryan (Graham) will be on the mound and he’s got to be throwing it the way he’s been throwing all year.”
Jacob Preslar had the lone hit for the Golden Tornadoes.
South Robeson’s big fifth inning tops Knights
South Robeson stayed alive and advanced to today’s fifth-place game with an 11-8 win over West Bladen.
Hoke County awaits South Robeson with a first pitch set for 1 p.m.
The Mustangs scored seven runs in the top of the fifth inning. Zack Carter went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and Bob Butler added two hits and an RBI. Matthew Chavis had a double, a triple and an RBI for the Mustangs as they gave run support to Tyee Sampson on the mound.
Jake Butler had three hits and an RBI for the Knights.
Bucks tops Red Springs to stay alive
Hoke County defeated Red Springs 14-1 to advance to the fifth-place game by holding the Red Devils to two hits.
Jaylen Mack and Gabriel Locklear had the hits for the Red Devils.
Hoke County’s Jamison Cummings had a pair of hits and three RBIs. Ryan Taylor and Nick Goins added a pair of hits each.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.