Randleman’s Austin Lemons had a big night on the mound and at the plate in the PAC Tournament final. (Bob Sutton/Randolph Record)
RANDLEMAN – There was so much going on with Randleman’s baseball team in the Piedmont Athletic Conference Tournament final.
Everything from Drake Purvis making his much-anticipated season debut to the Tigers racking up their 20th victory of the year.
Yet pretty much nothing could overshadow Austin Lemons.
The senior who mostly waited in the wings behind a stacked roster from a year ago emerged as the pitching and hitting standout in Randleman’s 4-0 victory against visiting Trinity on Thursday night.
“This is the biggest game I’ve probably ever pitched in my life and I feel like I handled it really well out there. I could trust my team. We got some runs. I knew right when we got those runs, I felt good about it.”
Make no mistake, the Tigers got their runs because of Lemons, who hit a two-run homer and later doubled to set up another run,
So he went from having a up-close view of Randleman’s record-setting 2022 season as a reserve to becoming one of the main participants for this year’s conference titlist.
“It definitely feels rewarding after working a lot,” Lemons said. “It’s not just for me. Hunter (Atkins) and Seth (Way) are the two that were in the lineup last year. They’ve been killing it this year. Everybody else had to fill really big roles and I think we’re doing a really good job of that.”
Lemons, a UNC Greensboro signee as a pitcher, must have been paying good attention last year.
“He has worked for this,” Randleman coach Jake Smith said. “He has seen people being successful in front of him.”
Lemons said he grew as a player last summer and in the fall on the travel ball circuit. Combined with what he learned from watching his former Randleman teammates, he applied it all to his final high school season.
“I feel like I just stuck through the process. I came out here and practiced just the same as everybody else,” Lemons said. “I took a lot of time to learn watching these guys on the field and I think it really carried over to this year.”
So that’s why the Tigers felt good about sending Lemons to the mound for the tournament final after he tossed two shutout innings in relief in Tuesday night’s eight-inning escape against Providence Grove in the semifinals.
“He competed and threw strikes,” Smith said. “His body language, his presence. He’s very focused.”
He gave Randleman six innings vs. Trinity, allowing two hits and a walk with eight strikeouts.
Lemons relies mostly on fastballs and sliders. He said his control tended to be a glitch in past years, but that’s an area where he made significant improvement.
“I definitely feel like I’ve always had some of the talent there,” he said. “There’s potential, but I really had to work. I feel the biggest thing that changed for me is my mental approach, just being more confident.”
Randleman (20-4), the two-time defending Class 2-A state champion, will hold a high seed when the state playoffs begin next week.
Perfect inning for Purvis
Now, they’ll have Purvis ready to contribute. He hadn’t pitched in competition in about 10 months because of elbow surgery.
The junior left-hander entered in the seventh – though Lemons stayed loose on the side – and pitched a perfect inning.
“A couple of days ago we knew this would be the night,” Purvis said. “Slowly returning back. This is what you want. The place was packed, a big crowd.”
Second baseman Shawn Miller fielded a grounder toward the hole and snagged a line drive for the first two outs before a called third strike ended the game. Purvis celebrated with an emotion-filled prance toward the dugout.
“Wanted to see some live hitters in game in game situations,” he said. “Have that playoff mode. I’m used to this. It’s not my first rodeo and definitely not my last, either.”
It pretty much went by design for the Tigers. Purvis pitched a no-hitter in last June’s Game 1 of the state championship series vs. Farmville Central.
“We had to get him in and see him, and it was a positive,” Smith said. “He was amped up, for sure. I don’t blame him, I would be, too.”
Some offense, too
In part because of Randleman center fielder Way’s diving catch in right-center field that likely saved a run to end the top of the fourth, neither team had scored. In the bottom of the inning, Atkins drew a lead-off walk and scored on Lemons’ second home run of the season.
The lead grew to 3-0 on Chesney Welch’s first varsity home run when he led off the bottom of the fifth with a blast to right-center field.
“I’m just getting out of my spring training phase,” Welch said of bolstering his production. “Sometimes they feel a certain way, and that (swing) was one of them.”
Soon after, Trinity starter Ethan Willard was gone. The Tigers loaded the bases with one out, but didn’t score again in the fifth.
Lemons’ lead-off double in the sixth resulted in the game’s final run after a couple of defensive miscues.
Randleman posted its first shutout in an 11-game span.
Trinity (15-10) failed to score in the tournament final for the second year in a row. Last year, the Bulldogs bounced back and reached the fourth round of the state playoffs.
Trinity used Andon Simmons’ two-hitter in a 4-0 semifinal victory against visiting Uwharrie Charter Academy with Landon Mowery and Brody Little both homering. The Bulldogs needed a fifth-run sixth inning to rally past seventh-seeded Eastern Randolph 7-5 in the quarterfinals.