Jun. 19—WILMINGTON — When the Purnell Swett baseball team takes the field on Saturday, the game will be unlike any in Rams history as the team makes it first third-round playoff appearance. But as they make that history, they're trying to play as if it's any other game.
"We don't want to get caught up in it, just play baseball," Rams coach Jeff Lamb said. "We're going to ride this ride as long as we can and don't let the moment get too big, and I think if we can just try to keep them grounded, try not get them caught up in you're making history and all this stuff; just go out and play baseball and let our results speak for us."
The 15th-seeded Rams will play at third-seeded Ashley with a 6 p.m. first pitch in Wilmington.
Ashley (13-3), who won the Mideastern 3A/4A Conference, reached the third round with a 2-0 first-round win over Broughton and a 15-7 second-round victory over Laney.
"They swing it pretty well," Lamb said. "All around, just a solid team. They've used their No. 1 and 2 (pitchers), they're used up, but in looking, they have four or five other guys that have thrown this year. I think it's just going to come down to putting the ball in play, and we've got to make routine plays, and hopefully we'll score more runs than they do."
The Screaming Eagles, who are the highest seed still alive in the 4A East Regional, average 7.1 runs per game and have five starters hitting .314 or better, including seniors Drew Tyndall (.453 batting average, 16 RBIs, nine extra-base hits) and Michael Brannin (.367, 17 RBIs, six extra-base hits).
"They're a fastball-hitting team, so typically that fastball count, there might not be a fastball there, they might be seeing something else," Lamb said. "Typically it's what you call pitching guys backwards; that's the approach we're going to have to use on four or five of their guys. They've got a couple of D-I commits, solid guys who can swing it well. But you know, we saw that (Thursday) night, and we just try to keep them in check. You know they're going to do some damage at some point, but you just try to minimize the damage when they do it, and try to keep the guys off (base) in front of them."
After Jonathon Jacobs and Isaiah Oxendine started the first two playoff games for Purnell Swett (11-5), who defeated South View 5-3 in the first round and Middle Creek 7-4 in the second, sophomore Keithyn Hunt (4-1, 4.10 ERA, 40 strikeouts) will start. While Jacobs and Oxendine are not available as relief options due to the pitch counts in their starts, Lamb is still confident in his pitching depth.
"We've got some other arms," Lamb said. "We've got kids that have pitched in the past that we haven't used this year, but they've been in the people throwing. We've got some things that people don't know about."
The Rams offense has shown more life this week, scoring 12 runs over the first two rounds, and Lamb says the team hopes to stick to the approach that's resulted in that success.
"If they stick to the plan we've been pretty successful," Lamb said. "But at times they go up there and kind of fall back into some of the things they've been doing. So we're trying to keep them focused on the approach we want them to use, and if they stick to the approach we've been having some success. Especially (Thursday) night, we had four or five two-strike hits. That was big, but basically in that situation they're finally widening up, shortening up and just trying to play pepper, trying to put the ball in play. It paid off (Thursday) night, but you know the old saying, that's history now. Now we move on."
And they move on to the historic third-round appearance as one of the final eight 4A baseball teams still playing this season. Lamb says the team has had to learn how to win this postseason, and it's paying off; if it pays off again Saturday the Rams would advance to the East Regional final.
"It's a learning curve," Lamb said. "During the season you teach them how to win, and you get in the playoffs its a different game. It's a one-and-done deal, and you've just got to be better than the other team for 21 outs."
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.