Summer dominates spring: Rams' Bullard named Robeson County Player of the Year

·6 min read

May 28—PEMBROKE — When Summer Bullard's alarm sounded in the morning, she was already thinking about softball.

"Every time we had a big game — like Cape Fear, Gray's Creek, even in the playoffs — I would wake up that morning ready to play, already locked in that morning, just thinking about what I'm going to do that night, or thinking about how I'm going to beat this team or what I should throw," the Purnell Swett senior pitcher said. "I just prepared myself really well before the games, and it really worked out."

The result of that focus was a dominant season — and not just in the circle, but at the plate too. And as a result of that dominant season, Bullard has been named Robeson County Player of the Year by The Robesonian.

"I give all the glory to God because of what I went through last year, because if it wasn't for Him I wouldn't have been where I am at today with my ability," Bullard said. "So I just put all my trust in Him and gave the injury to Him and He's why I got the county Player of the Year."

Indeed, the award comes one year removed from a torn labrum suffered during her junior season. She continued pitching through the injury, which was to her non-throwing shoulder, but didn't hit in the 2021 season. Offseason surgery repaired the labrum, but left her rehabbing for essentially the entire offseason and wondering if she could return to pre-injury form in her senior campaign.

"It brought my confidence back down, and I never thought that I would have the season that I had," Bullard said. "Because at the first of the season, my first practice, it was really weird swinging the bat. I was just uncomfortable; I thought I was going to get hurt again. I just put my trust into my training and everything went well, because I worked hard getting back where I am, back where I was."

Bullard was 16-2 with a 1.11 ERA, striking out 225 batters in 120 innings pitched; she threw five no-hitters this season, including a five-inning perfect game against Lumberton in the United-8 Tournament semifinals on May 3.

"She throws hard, but during the course of the year her curveball worked and her changeup worked," Purnell Swett coach William Deese said. "So you throw the ball hard like she does, and come back with something good off-speed, it made her very effective. That's what made her dominant, plus her determination to do what she needed to do.

"She's a bulldog; she's been doing her job, she's done everything you can ask of her."

In 18 pitching appearances, Bullard allowed no earned runs 10 times and one earned run three times. She struck out 10 batters or more 12 times, including 24 strikeouts in a 14-inning game against Cape Fear on March 14.

Bullard gives much of the credit to her defense — and that conversation starts with catcher Chloe Locklear, herself an All-County selection for the fifth time overall in her three-sport high school athletic career.

"Chloe was an amazing catcher; I don't think she had one passed ball this year or one error," Bullard said. "The awesome diving plays she made — that's one out, and I wouldn't have gotten those outs if it weren't for her. She can frame — she's actually the one who calls my pitches. So the game was in her hands, and she called the game and it worked out really well for her."

While much of the focus around Bullard is on her as a pitcher — and that's the position she'll play collegiately at Charleston Southern — she was nearly as valuable at the plate for the Rams this season, hitting .493 with 20 RBIs, 26 runs and 14 extra-base hits, including two home runs.

"This season I've been working harder on my hitting than my pitching, so it was kind of expected," Bullard said. "I was kind of in a slump at the beginning of the year, so I just put my mental game to work, and had a plan at the plate and it worked."

"(Her bat) was big for us," Deese said. "We missed that going into the big part of our season last year. ... You add that this year, and we could've had the bounce either way, and we could've got to the regional semifinals, or (been) a state championship team."

In helping lead the Rams to consecutive conference championships — adding the tournament title this year, too, after a conference tournament was not held in 2021 — and a third-round 4A state playoff appearance for the second straight year, Bullard consistently stepped up her performance in the Rams' biggest games throughout the season. This includes the perfect game against Lumberton; allowing four runs over 29 innings, including none in the first seven innings of a game, against a Cape Fear team which plays Saturday for the 3A East Regional championship; and hitting a key home run late in the Rams' Robeson County Slugfest championship game victory, also against Lumberton.

Bullard says the hard work she's put in is what allows her to play her best when the lights are brightest — and that effort extends back well before her injury rehab in the last year.

"She's a freak — and I don't mean that in a bad way — when it comes to, she works out, she works out, she works out. Her dad's got her on a regimen, they lift weights, they run, she's constantly pitching, constantly getting better, constantly swinging the bat," Deese said. "Those little things, when other people are just going through the motions and getting a little bit of reps here and there, she's getting more and more fine-tuned what she's doing, and she's just reaping the benefits from it right now."

Now, as she prepares to depart Purnell Swett, she's grateful for the community support she's received throughout her high school career.

"I want to thank Ram Country, the community, because they've done a lot for us this season, feeding us before games, providing us with a lot of stuff," Bullard said. "The audience at the games was unbelievable; that gave me so much much momentum. I want to thank them for following us this season and all the support; it means a lot to me."

Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at cstiles@robesonian.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.