South Johnston's baseball team searches for new leadership and contributions from young players in 2022.
FOUR OAKS — Paul Olive hopes Tuesday’s season-opening win serves as a precursor for good things to come when his South Johnston baseball team faces adversity this year.
South took a first-inning lead before Midway’s John McLamb lifted a three-run home run to silence the Four Oaks faithful while forcing Olive and company to stare at a 3-2 deficit.
Despite giving up the big fly, Olive got out the inning without any more damage then pitched back-to-back shutout frames.
“You got to keep your composure. I was like, ‘I can’t show no emotion right there because it’ll make everybody else see it,’” said the Trojans’ (1-0) senior ace following a 9-5 victory.
The make-or-break fifth inning saw Midway (0-1) scratch two more runs across to extend the margin to 5-2, forcing Olive to exit with two outs. He struck out four and gave up five hits in 4 2/3 innings of work.
For South coach Aaron Parnell, the line displayed just enough fortitude for his teammates to stage a raging rally.
“He goes, we go. He sets the tone for us,” Parnell said of Olive.
“Even when we struggled in those innings, he never looked defeated — he was never fazed by it — which I think gave us that big inning.”
Despite the late-game hole, the Trojans wore down Raiders starter Casey Culbreth and answered with a seven-run fifth.
“A lot of teams get down 5-2, and you could easily throw (the towel) in ... you only got nine outs (left),” said Parnell.
“We didn’t give in to him (Culbreth) at all, as good as he was ... and we just kept fighting back with him until we got our breaks.”
Junior infield Evan Barefoot had a two-out, two-RBI single in the frame to put South back in front, 7-5.
Carter Johnson, another key senior, finished with two hits and followed Barefoot with a two-RBI knock that put the game’s final points on the board.
“Two swings of the bat and we got four runs in a huge situation for those two guys,” said Parnell.
“Carter’s a guy that everybody looks to, to do stuff like that, so it’s good to see him have that result.”
Graduating 11 seniors from last year’s 7-7 club provides plenty of opportunities for the likes of Barefoot and Johnson, who held limited roles in the past.
The seventh-year Trojans skipper is emboldened by what he saw from the inexperienced players Tuesday, and isn’t surprised given their work ethic.
“We’re young, but they’re quick learners,” he said. “I think it’s because they care about it. They take it very seriously at practice.”
Ben Grantham is a sophomore starter who finished with two hits at the plate and followed Olive on the mound with 2 1/3 shutout innings and four strikeouts.
“If he just does what he did tonight every time we put him on the mound, that’s amazing for the team,” Olive said of Grantham, who struck out the side to close things out.
“It’s a big win for us and I think we got a lot more to win.
Olive added that he is focused on getting everyone on the same page to earn a postseason bid for the first time since 2019.
The Trojans ended last season with three straight wins in a gruesome Greater Neuse River Conference slate. They’ll move to a new league this year, the Quad County 3A, which figures to be just as competitive and contains a West Johnston group that claimed the GNRC regular-season title in 2021.
Parnell feels his group will be up for the challenge given a trying non-league slate that includes longtime rival Triton and Myrle Beach’s Socastee, a group that went 18-5 in South Carolina’s 5A division.
“We want to win the conference. And the best way to do that is to prepare yourself in nonconference,” he said.
South continues its schedule on the road Friday at Clayton (0-2).
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.