It was a very sweet night for Cleveland’s baseball program.
Junior southpaw Ryan Flores fired a two-hit shutout and Tyler Keenan smacked his sixth homer of the season, giving the Rams a 4-0 win over South Johnston on the Rams’ Senior Night.
Tuesday’s victory was Cleveland’s first home win over the Trojans, giving them the first series sweep over traditional power South in Cleveland’s five-year history.
Cleveland had won the teams’ first meeting 7-6 on April 2 in Four Oaks.
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The win improved Cleveland to 13-7 and more importantly 6-3 and in second place in Two Rivers 3A play. South fell to 12-7 and 5-4.
“We’ve come a long ways program-wise,” said Cleveland coach Jamie Lee, whose first team in 2011 had no upperclassmen and was no-hit in both games against the Trojans. “We’re not young like we used to be, and we expect the program to be good.
“These kids are right where I want them to be. We’re playing about as good of baseball as I can ask.”
Flores, who helped his own cause with an RBI double, a single and a steal, struck out 12 against two walks in improving to 4-1.
“I was able to hit my spots and keep batters off-balance most of the night,” Flores said. “I really relied on my fastball and my curveball tonight.
“I was concerned about their third and fourth hitters, Joseph Johnson and (Zachary) Bridges. I play with them on the weekend with Purpose Driven and I know they’re solid hitters. This was a big win. We pretty much assured ourselves a spot in the playoffs with this one. “
Cody Allen started for South and went 3 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on five hits with four strikeouts against one walk before giving way to Sauyer Roberts. Roberts struck out four and walked two without allowing a hit in 2 2/3.
“We came out flat,” South coach Aaron Parnell said. “And (Flores) commanded the strike zone and was tough on us. Our approach right now is the next pitch. We’ve got to win every pitch and every inning from here on out. We’re playing hard, but we’ve really got to work. The good thing is we know we’ll get to start the conference tournament at home.”
The Rams went up 3-0 in the first. After leadoff man Flores and Landry Moore hit back-to-back singles, Keenan lifted an 0-1 pitch over the wall in straightaway left.
“I was just trying to hit it in the gap,” Keenan said. “They threw me a changeup and left it up and I just hit it. I knew they weren’t going to throw me another fastball. To beat them twice this year is a big thing for us.”
Cleveland tacked its only other run in the second, as Parker Lewter singled and scored on Flores’ one-out double to right.
Zachary Bridges and Grant Millay singled for South.
“A home run is a home run,” catcher Bridges said. “I thought we’d be able to come back. But Ryan Flores is a good pitcher and he threw strikes. He just beat us. We just never got our bats going.”