ASHEBORO — Sometimes, it’s not a matter of how many times a high school pitcher can succeed in a game, but when he succeeds that makes the difference in the final result.
Randleman High School senior right-hander Austin Lemons found himself in quite a predicament Friday night against Southwestern Randolph in a Piedmont Athletic Conference battle.
The Tigers, who scored five times in the first and once in the second for an early six-run lead, saw the Cougars rally for two runs in the second, one run in the third and they still had the bases loaded with no one out. Lemons walked three in the inning and it appeared as if momentum was shifting toward the Cougars’ dugout.
But again, it’s not how many times a pitcher succeeds, but when.
Lemons gathered himself and struck out three straight hitters to protect the three-run lead and the Tigers went on to record a 12-5 victory over the Cougars at SWRHS.
Coupled with a 6-0 win over SWR earlier in the week, the two-time defending state champion Tigers improved to 6-0 inside PAC play and took sole possession of first place after Trinity dropped its first league contest to Uwharrie Charter Academy Friday night. RHS had two league games scheduled with UCA this week.
For Lemons, who had given up four hits and walked four more before arriving at the crucial phase in the game, it was a matter of figuring things out quickly.
“I feel like I started getting out of my own head a little,” he said. “I took a step back on the mound and realized I had to do it for my teammates.”
Lemons said he wasn’t locating his slider and worked on starting that pitch at the batter’s elbow instead of starting it over the plate. He made that correction just in time as he left all three Cougars stranded.
“I definitely think that was a huge momentum shift,” RHS coach Jake Smith said. “It was a great opportunity and a great learning experience for Austin right there, getting in a situation he had to work his way out of. He went out there and threw strikes.”
Getting out of that jam as well as getting out of a two-on, one-out jam the next inning seemed to fuel the Randleman offense, which scored six runs in its final three at bats.
“We did a great job of putting pressure on them early,” Smith said. “Coming out of the gate and scoring some early runs. Then I think we took a little exhale and let them off the hook in the middle innings. We lost focus, but gained it back in the latter innings.”
In the first two innings, Hunter Atkins had a walk and hit by pitch as he scored two runs, Seth Way had an RBI single and a run, Lemons had an RBI groundout, Riley Edwards reached base twice and scored a run, Chesney Welch had two hits and two runs scored, and Caleb Dunn and Sean Miller added a hit and RBI each as RHS led 6-0 in the top of the second.
Easton Clapp and Zach Scruggs recorded hits in a two-run second inning before Brady Armfield began the third with a walk. Adam Cole tripled and Lemons walked Tyler Parks and Eli Gravely to set up the key scenario.
“It’s baseball, not everything is going to be perfect.” Smith said.
Over the next three players, Lemons was and the Tigers escaped the jam still leading 6-3.
SWR reliever Ryan Jones did a great job in his 4⅔ innings of relief, allowing only two runs while striking out four.
But once Jones left the hill, the Tigers’ offense woke up. John Kirkpatrick added an RBI single, and the Tigers added three more in the sixth and two in the seventh on a two-run homer from Atkins. Atkins finished with two hits and four runs scored.
“We know every night we are going to get everyone’s best shot,” Smith said after the Tigers registered 13 hits in the contest. “You have to show up and be ready to play.”
The Cougars (4-6, 1-5) were scheduled to play Eastern Randolph twice this week as well as a non-league game with Asheboro.