FOUR OAKS — South Johnston’s baseball team had an opportunity to claim a share of the regular-season Two Rivers 3A Conference baseball championship Monday.
Cleveland had the opportunity to close the regular-season on a positive note heading into the conference tournament by spoiling the Trojans’ Senior Night.
As the game progressed, the Rams made the most of their opportunities, creating a majority of them, while the Trojans created opportunities but failed to convert.
The long and short of the regular-season finales for both teams was a 10-3 Cleveland victory, leaving the Rams with a solid fourth-place finish in the Two Rivers standings with a 5-5 conference ledger (10-11 overall).
South (12-8) on the other had, was left with a 7-3 mark in Two Rivers play, still finished in second place outright because of Smithfield-Selma’s upset win over Corinth Holders on Monday.
Cleveland wasted little time in taking advantage of self-made opportunities, plating a pair of second inning-runs for a 2-0 lead on a single to left field by Alan Michael Hales.
The Rams would pad their lead two innings later, taking advantage of three walks followed by two-run singles by Chase Jackson and Trevor Poole.
“We got some timely hitting,” said Rams coach Jaime Lee. “Trevor Poole got that two-run hit that chased Jackson, and we were able to come up with the big hit when we needed it.”
Lee also beamed over the efforts of his pitching staff, consisting of Mullins, Brandon Fox and Patrick Banks. Despite being touched up for three runs in the fourth inning, Mullins, with the help of his defense, managed to keep the Trojans off the scoreboard.
Fox and Banks provided solid relief help, holding the Trojans to one hit in the final three innings.
“We spread the pitching out this evening,” Lee said. “We have a tournament coming up, and we wanted to make sure we have enough pitching for that if we are able to make a run in it.
“Our pitchers came through. Maison gave us a good start going deep into the fourth inning, and Brandon came up with a big strikeout with the bases loaded to end that inning.”
Fox fanned Joey Matthews after Lee lifted Mullins, following a bases-loaded walk by the starter that trimmed the Rams lead to 6-3. That strikeout punctuated the inability of the Trojans to come through with the timely hit in the game.
South Johnston stranded nine runners in the game, including runners on second and third in the first and second innings, and on first and third in the fifth in addition to he ill-fated finish to the fourth.
“That was the difference in the game,” said Trojans coach Keith Durham. “They got the timely hits and we didn’t.”
Defense also played a pivotal role for the Rams, who put together a pair of double plays to end Trojan innings.
With the bases loaded in the fifth, Will Barbour sent a blast into center field that looked as if would go for extra bases and help South cut into the lead. But Tyler Keenan, who homered in the top of the inning in pushing the Rams lead to 7-3, and would homer again in the seventh, made a running catch of the blast and doubled off a runner to end the inning.
“That was my fault,” Durham said. “I green-lighted the runners on the play. I guess in hindsight, I should have had them hold up.”
With the two homers, Keenan enjoyed a 3-for-4 night that led both teams. Both of Keenan’s homers were solo shots.
“Tyler made an incredible play for us with that catch in the fifth,” Lee beamed. “And those homers were his first of the year.”