PEMBROKE — As a baseball player, Matthew Strickland’s goal has never changed.
“I’ve always wanted to play college baseball,” the Purnell Swett senior said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Strickland committed to that goal, signing his letter of intent to join the baseball program at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg.
“I’m real excited about the opportunity to keep doing what I love,” he said. “I’m ready.”
Strickland made his official choice surrounded by family and faculty in Purnell Swett’s media center.
The son of Perry and Myra Strickland, Matthew wanted to stick close to Pembroke when narrowing down his final choice, making the short trip up U.S. 74 appealing.
The Knights, an NAIA program, finished 26-27 last season, including a 14-13 mark in the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
“I like (St. Andrews) because it’s nearby and the atmosphere is nice,” Strickland said. “I think we’ll have a good team.”
Primarily used as a pitcher for the Rams, the right-hander was 3-1 in seven appearances last season and finished fourth among pitchers in the Southeastern Conference with a 1.28 ERA. He helped the squad post a 16-9 record that included a trip to the Robeson County Slugfest championship and an appearance in the Southeastern Conference tournament title game.
“It speaks well for the program,” said Bryan McDonald, Purnell Swett’s baseball coach. “We’ve had a lot of success and Matt’s been a big part of it. He had a really good junior year on the mound and we’re looking for big things out of him in his senior year.”
Also used as an infielder at times, Strickland expects to focus on improving his pitching for the next level.
“Pitching will be what I do mostly,” he said. “It’s always been there for me; It comes natural.”
McDonald feels Strickland will have a smooth transition to the college game.
“He’s a big, strong kid that’s going to pound the strike zone,” McDonald said. “Sometimes at the next level a freshman pitcher might struggle a little bit. I don’t think that will happen to Matt. I think he’ll be a major contributor and step in immediately for (St. Andrews).”
Andy Fox, recruiting coordinator for the Knights, was impressed with Strickland’s size.
“He’s a physical kid,” Fox said. “We feel he can come in and make an impact for us on the mound and as a hitter…we’ll give him that opportunity. He’s also impressive academically. We’re excited about him.”
With plans to major in criminal justice, Strickland remains focused on finishing his senior year strong, on the field and in the classroom.
“I want to make it the best year I can because this is it,” he said. “Mentally I could be a better player, and physically, I’m good, but you can always get better.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.