Purnell Swett’s Chloe Locklear watches a foul ball during Thursday’s second-round state playoff game against Wake Forest in Pembroke.
                                 Chris Stiles | The Robesonian

Purnell Swett’s Chloe Locklear watches a foul ball during Thursday’s second-round state playoff game against Wake Forest in Pembroke.

Chris Stiles | The Robesonian

<p>St. Pauls’ Cameron Revels gets down a bunt during Tuesday’s first-round state playoff game against Greene Central in St. Pauls.</p>
                                 <p>Chris Stiles | The Robesonian</p>

St. Pauls’ Cameron Revels gets down a bunt during Tuesday’s first-round state playoff game against Greene Central in St. Pauls.

Chris Stiles | The Robesonian

PEMBROKE — In 2021, the Purnell Swett softball team faced Fuquay-Varina in the third round of the 4A state playoffs.

Tuesday, the Lady Rams will face Fuquay-Varina in the third round of the 4A state playoffs.

At least this time the game won’t have to be played at mid-afternoon due to the prom.

The second-seeded Rams will host No. 10 Fuquay-Varina at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Pembroke, hoping for a different result after the Bengals 1-0 win last season in a classic pitchers duel.

“Even though (Fuquay-Varina) finished second in their conference I think they’re probably a little bit better than they were last year,” Purnell Swett coach William Deese said. “I’m looking at a good game; you’re going to have two good pitchers on the mound and two good teams playing against each other, so I think it’s going to be a good game.”

Last year, Rams pitcher Summer Bullard threw a four-hitter with 15 strikeouts — completing a stretch of 31 strikeouts over 16 innings in two games over a 23-hour span; Fuquay-Varina’s lone run came on a controversial play at the plate. Bengals pitcher Michele Tarpey took a perfect game into the sixth and a no-hitter into the seventh, ultimately broken up by Chan Locklear, and struck out nine Rams.

“This is nothing (about) them, but we felt like we should have won that game last year,” Deese said. “We had the opportunities, we just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities. They know that and the girls are focused on what they’ve got to do, and motivational speaking, we’ve talked about our goals and what we want to achieve, and I think they’re ready, they’re focused and ready to go tomorrow night.”

Tarpey now plays for N.C. State after graduating last spring, but this time around the Rams will face a Bengals pitcher having nearly as strong as season in junior Madison Davis (13-1, 1.25 ERA, 78 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings).

“I feel like if we do what we’ve been doing all year, adapting to the pitching, take what she’s giving us and get some timely hits — we’ve got to start out getting baserunners, then we’re going to do our thing,” Deese said. “I don’t know if we’re going to small ball or what, depending on the situation. In our conference, we’ve faced some of the best pitching in the state as well already, so I think we are going to be prepared for what we see tomorrow.”

Juniors Kendall Smith (.568 average, four home runs, 24 RBIs, 37 runs), Kaylee Furr (.382 average, four home runs, 28 RBIs) and Courtney Maddox (.385 average, four home runs, 22 RBIs) are among the leaders on a deep offensive unit for Fuquay-Varina (20-3).

The Bengals defeated Northern Durham 13-0 and Wakefield 4-1 in the first two rounds of the playoffs last week; Purnell Swett (23-2) earned a 2-1 win over Middle Creek and a 4-0 victory over Wake Forest. Tuesday’s winner will face the winner of the No. 14 Cleveland at No. 6 Panther Creek game in Friday’s fourth round; that game would be at Purnell Swett if the Rams advance.

Purnell Swett can match the 2010 Lady Rams team as the furthest-reaching team in the state playoffs in program history; that team reached the fourth round before also losing to Fuquay-Varina. Last season’s third-round appearance was, like 2010, also a regional semifinal due to the condensed playoff format for the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It didn’t start this year, it didn’t start last year,” Deese said. “It started with these young ladies when they were 8, 9, 10 years old, getting games in and getting better. It’s great for them to — I have five or six that played basketball that set records in basketball, and they’ve moved on and set records in softball. I think this is the most wins for our softball team.

“I’m excited and I’m hoping we can continue on and just continue to make history as a team.”

Bulldogs set for rubber match with Whiteville

After the two teams split in a pair of regular-season nonconference meetings, the St. Pauls baseball team and Whiteville will settle the score Tuesday — all that’s on the line is a trip to the fourth round of the state playoffs.

The teams will face off at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Legion Stadium in Whiteville as St. Pauls makes its first third-round appearance since 2017 against a Wolfpack program with five state championships and a state runner-up in the last 10 years.

“It’s going to be a good one,” St. Pauls coach Matthew Hunt said. “We split in the regular season. … It’s Whiteville — a baseball perennial powerhouse.”

Whiteville (19-3), the No. 4 seed in the 2A East Regional, beat St. Pauls (19-6), the No. 12 seed, 8-3 on March 15 in Whiteville; the Bulldogs won 6-3 on March 17 in St. Pauls. The Wolfpack have won 17 straight games since that loss.

“Game one the key was Ty (Lawson),” Hunt said. “He came in and had 17 strikeouts; threw it well. On our behalf, there was 35 strikeouts in that game, so we dealt as well; they just get hits when they needed them. Game two, we came in hyped up, ready to play, did what we’re supposed to do and got the win.”

Lawson, a senior pitcher, is signed to play at UNC Wilmington and is the likely starting pitcher for Tuesday’s game.

“He’s got D-1 velocity, and he controls it. That’s the main thing; he throws it across the plate, and velocity is kind of what makes him who he is,” Hunt said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re up for the challenge. We’ve been up to the challenge every game we’ve played, and we’re not going up there facing Ty Lawson; we’re going up there and it’s our bats versus that ball that comes across the plate.”

St. Pauls beat No. 5 Midway 8-4 in the second round Thursday after a 3-2 win over Greene Central in the first round Tuesday. Whiteville defeated Eastern Wayne 7-3 in the first round and South Lenoir 5-1 in the second round.

With five days between Thursday’s second round and Tuesday’s third-round game, both teams’ pitching staffs should be well-rested and everyone should be available.

“We have a rotation, we’ve stuck with the rotation all year, and we’re going into practice (Monday) and my mentality is whatever pitcher shows me he wants the ball, that’s the one that’s going on the mound,” Hunt said. “And then our relief guys, that’s the biggest part of our pitching staff.”

As the Bulldogs play a third-round game in their first playoff appearance of Hunt’s tenure, they’re relishing the experience of making a run.

“We’re sitting in the top 16 teams in the state; everybody does not get that opportunity,” Hunt said. “There’s kids you play all year sitting at home — actually, everybody we’ve played all year except Whiteville — sitting at home watching you play.”

The winner of Tuesday’s game will face either No. 1 East Duplin or No. 8 Roanoke Rapids in the fourth round Friday. If St. Pauls advances, the matchup would be an away game at either potential opponent.

Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.