ERWIN — Triton’s baseball team vaulted into second place in the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference on Tuesday night, completing a two-game regular-season sweep of rival South Johnston with a 2-0 victory.
Triton and South Johnston each finished with 7-5 conference records, but the Hawks earned the league’s No. 2 seed for the conference tournament and an automatic playoff berth that goes with it by winning both games against the Trojans. South Johnston also is assured of a state playoff berth with the league’s No. 3 seed.
The Hawks grabbed the big victory behind the shutout pitching of sophomore right-hander Brett McLamb and one swing of the bat from junior catcher Austin Lee, who belted a two-run homer to left field in the fourth inning for the game’s only runs.
“Brett is a competitor,” Triton coach Joey Miriello said. “He wants the ball. Any time I went out to the mound late in the game, he was begging me to let him stay in. that is what you want from your No. 1 pitcher, to compete, to want the ball, to want to win.
“That one swing (from Lee) and Brett tonight was the difference in the ball game.”
McLamb (5-2) gave up just three hits, but two of those hits came in the second inning when South Johnston loaded the bases with one out on singles by Josh Stikeleather and Bailey Coe and a walk. But a hard ground ball to third baseman Matthew Webb resulted in a forceout at home for the second out and McLamb struck out the next batter to end the threat.
McLamb finished with 10 strikeouts.
“That was a great high school baseball game,” South Johnston coach Keith Durham said. “Two great guys on the mound going at each other. One swing is the difference in the game. I can’t be upset with my guys.”
Turning point: Lee’s home run, his second of the season, accounted for the only runs of the game in which McLamb and South Johnston’s Lane Johnson each gave up just three hits.
Lee hit his second homer of the season on a 2-2 pitch, a breaking ball that stayed out over the plate.
“I had two strikes and was trying to take something the other way,” Lee said. “I just hit it hard and did what I could and got us two runs.
Lee’s approach was just what the Hawks had stressed all season with two strikes, Miriello said.
“It was a breaking ball,” Miriello said. “Our two-strike approach is to try to take the fastball the other way and if they throw off-speed, you arrive on time. That is exactly what happened. He stayed back long enough that he was able to get the fat part of the bat on the ball and drive it.”
Highlight reel - featuring a future Wolfpacker: South Johnston center fielder Will Raynor made the play of the day, chasing down a drive by Triton’s Taylor Emory in the third inning and catching it a few feet from the wall in right-center.
Raynor made a big decision on Monday night, committing to accept a baseball scholarship offer from N.C. State.
Unsung hero: It was a good night for both third basemen.
Triton’s Webb made several good plays in the field and singled in the second inning after Johnson had retired the first five Hawks batters.
“When (Webb) got that first hit, it gave us the confidence that we could hit their pitcher,” Miriello said.
South Johnston’s Ryan Underwood also made some standout plays at third and got on base twice, walking in the second inning and belting a triple to right-center in the sixth inning.
What worked: For Triton, McLamb was superb at getting an out when he needed it. In addition to the three hits, McLamb walked two batters and hit another one. An error put another Trojans runner on base, but McLamb stranded eight runners for the game, ending three innings with runners on base with a strikeout.
“This is my biggest game of the year by far,” McLamb said. “I knew we had to win the game to finish ahead of South. I didn’t have my best stuff, but I had good enough stuff to win the game tonight.
“I’m always depending on my defense. I trust them to make the plays and they did tonight.”
For South Johnston, the story was very similar – except for the lack of runs. Johnson pitched well, walking just one and striking out four. And the Trojans played outstanding defense behind him.
What didn’t work: For Triton, not much. The Hawks kept South Johnston at bay in a taut, high-intensity game and made the plays when they had to.
For South Johnston, the big hit never came. The Trojans had base runners in five of seven innings, but came up empty.
“We just didn’t get the hit, get the break when we needed it,” Durham said.
Going forward: Both teams went into the ECC tournament with a state playoff berth assured after a game that left both teams feeling good about how they were playing.
“The bigger goal is when we get in the playoffs,” Miriello said. “If we win the conference tournament, that’s a bonus. We want to get through the conference tournament healthy. That is our main goal.”
Durham said the Trojans played much better on Tuesday than they did in a 6-5 loss to Erwin on April 26.
“It’s been a great season,” he said. “We are ready to start the second season and see how we do in the playoffs. I feel like even with the loss we picked up a lot of momentum. We played good baseball. We didn’t play good baseball Friday night (in the 6-5 loss to Triton).”
Best quote: “I’ve these kids since they were freshmen and sophomores and now they are mostly juniors and a few seniors,” said Miriello, who team made the playoffs for the first time since 2009. “They have worked their tails off. Now the teams that put the licking on us, we are finally starting to return the favor a little bit.”