ROCKINGHAM — Heading into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s 4A East state playoffs, Richmond head baseball coach Rob Ransom challenged his team to be able to shut the door late in close games.
The No. 15 Raiders responded by doing just that, edging No. 18 Cleveland High School 2-1 in Tuesday’s playoff opener.
Having not played in a week, and losing a lead late in the opening round of the conference tournament last Tuesday, the Raiders relied on a strong start from sophomore pitcher Camron Seagraves.
Making his playoff debut, Seagraves tossed 6.0 innings and allowed just one earned run on three hits. He also struck out six Rams batters and stranded five runners on base.
Carrying a one-run lead into the top of the seventh, fellow sophomore James Eason relieved Seagraves with two runners on and no outs.
Facing just three batters, Eason picked up the save with a sac bunt and two fly outs. Senior first baseman Jude Howard caught the final out on an infield pop up near the mound.
The Rams (16-8) stranded the tying run at third base and left the go-ahead run on second.
Senior Matthew Walker (right) records the second out in the top of the seventh inning, and also had an RBI single in Tuesday’s win. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)
All of the game’s scoring came in the first two innings before Seagraves and Cleveland starting pitcher Kaden Morris (5.0 innings, seven hits, two earned runs, three strikeouts) entered a pitchers’ duel.
The Rams took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning on an RBI single to center by Dylan Smith, scoring Conner Roberts (walk) with two outs.
Answering in the home half, senior Matthew Walker knotted the game at one run apiece with an RBI single of his own. With one out, Walker laced a line drive to left field, bringing home fellow senior Alston Johnson (leadoff hit-by-pitch).
A 1-2-3 top of the second by Seagraves paved the way for the eventual game-winning run in the bottom of the second inning.
Eason connected for a one-out base knock, one of seven hits by Richmond, and stole second base. Moving to third on a Howard groundout, Eason scored when junior Ethan Locklear muscled an opposite field RBI single to right.
Junior Ethan Locklear notched the game-winning RBI during Tuesday’s playoff opener. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)
Seagraves faced just four batters in the third, and worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the fourth. A groundout to first and a fly out to short ended the threat.
The right-hander followed that up by retiring the Rams in order in the fifth and faced just four more batters in the sixth.
Richmond looked to add to its lead in the bottom of the sixth with two on and no outs, but a couple of base running mistakes ended the frame.
Johnson led the way with a pair of singles, while Walker, Locklear, Eason, Seagraves and senior Cameron Way all had one base hit.
With the win, the No. 15 Raiders (14-8) advanced to the second round of the playoffs and will travel to conference foe No. 2 Pinecrest High School (20-5) on Friday.
This is the third straight playoff appearance the Raiders have made it to the second round (2018, 2019, 2022).
Friday’s meeting will also be the fourth time Richmond will play the Patriots this season, and will look to even the series at two games apiece.
Pinecrest defeated No. 31 South View High School 8-1 in the first round. Action will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday in Southern Pines.