Potent bats send SouthWest duo to LCC

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PINETOPS — The won-loss pendulum finally swung in a positive direction for the SouthWest Edgecombe High varsity baseball team this season, and the power-hitting combo of T.J. Harris and Matthew Raynor had a lot to do with it.

SouthWest, which finished with a winning record for the first time since 2005 after posting a 13-11 ledger and a 5-5 showing in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference, were anchored in the lineup by the recent Cougar graduates.

Raynor hit .394 and led SouthWest in extra-base hits with 10 doubles. Harris, who moved into the closing role on the mound for the Cougars by season’s end, connected at a .418 clip and paced SouthWest’s everyday starters in slugging percentage at .618.

Both will have the opportunity to continue their careers in the junior college ranks after signing letters of intent with Lenoir Community College of the National Junior College Athletic Association Div. II ranks.

“Both of them can really hit,” SouthWest head coach Shelton Langley said. “They’re very offensive players. They both can pitch — I don’t know if they’ll pitch at the next level, but T.J. hit 87 on the radar at (Wilson Post 13) Legion tryouts.”

LCC head coach C.C. Tilghman kept tabs on both players throughout their senior seasons and attended a SouthWest game on a Lancers off day. Seeing both power hitters in their element appealed to Tilghman, Langley said.

“He likes big guys,” Langley said. “T.J. is about 6-4 and Matt is about 6-3 or 6-4.”

Raynor will continue to pitch in college as he will be added to LCC’s roster of arms. Harris, who made the Wilson Post 13 roster this summer, could see time at third base or spot duty on the mound. The prospect of rooming together at LCC factored into their respective decisions.

“I just liked the campus and I already knew some of the guys on the team and how they talked about the school,” Raynor said. And they had the career path I wanted to go on.”

Even with getting his velocity up to the 87 miles-per-hour range, Harris, the owner of a fastball/curveball combo and an EPC all-conference selection as a senior, wants to improve the art of hitting his spots at the college level. 

“Just working on my mechanics,” Raynor said of his junior college goals. “And try to get my fastball throwing harder and my off-speed breaking a little more.”

Raynor, the son of Mike Raynor and Laura Winstead, will pursue a career path in welding. Harris, the son of Tim and Sandy Harris of Rocky Mount, is currently undecided on a major.

The Cougars hit .326 as a team and were 3-2 in one-run games, including a 2-1 loss at the N.C. School of Science and Math that ended their season in the opening round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A postseason.

“They’re two of the main reasons we had a successful year this year,” Langley said. “The first winning season since 2005. It had to do with the way we hit the ball this year. We crushed it.”