South Johnston turned around its baseball season without getting a player back from injury or incorporating a new batting stance. All it took was a long bus ride to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
After the Trojans played Socastee High on March 11 and 13, South was still just 2-6 with some lopsided losses: 20-0 to Cardinal Gibbons, 11-4 to West Johnston and 13-0 to Rocky Mount.
But the team dynamic had changed.
“We grew over a trip we made,” player Jack Raynor said. “We came back a different team.”
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The Trojans fell to 2-7 with a 2-0 loss to Rocky Mount on March 13 and haven’t lost since. South (11-7) has won nine in a row including two walk-off victories in the Johnston County Easter Invitational.
South Johnston won its host tournament for the first time since 2013 on Tuesday with a thrilling 3-2 win in the bottom of the 10th inning against Kernersville’s Glenn High School. The winning run came on a Raynor single. Thomas Carpenter moved from first to third, but the throw to third bounced into the dugout and Carpenter was awarded home.
Raynor also delivered a walk-off win in the first round of the JCEI, an 8-7 win over Harnett Central. South won all three JCEI games by one run, winning the semifinal game 5-4 over Wake Forest.
“We have a lot of leaders on this team. We’re all pretty equal,” said Raynor, who was MVP of the tournament.
The Trojans are leading the Two Rivers 3A by one game over Corinth Holders and are the only team this season to beat the Pirates. Coach Aaron Parnell said it took some time for the Trojans to figure out who the new leaders were going to be after losing six key senior starters.
“Some of the older guys have stepped up and they’ve kind of took the team on their back, and they’re leading,” Parnell said. “They’re not just leading in the dugout, they’re leading in the locker room. They took control of the team. And we’ve got a good group of young guys and they’ve bought into it. They’re following the leaders.”
JCEI All-tournament team
South Johnston: Jack Raynor (MVP); Carter Beal (Def. MVP); Noah Bridges; Thomas Carpenter; Sauyer Roberts; Grant Millay.
Glenn: Kier Meredith; Gavin Tippett; Jackson Striplin; Jordon Ward.
Wake Forest: Grayson Joyner; Aidan Brown; Grant Smith.
Cleveland: Jordan Smothers; Bobby Dixon; Tyler Keenan (HR Derby champ).
Triton: Aaron Hedgepeth (Off. MVP); Adam Capps.
Clayton: Tyler Tuthill.
Harnett Central: Ian Jones.
Smithfield-Selma: Chandler Lasater.