First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - Last year's Robeson County Shootout ended with the county's two biggest schools battling it out for the boys' championship, and this year's bracket could shake out the same way.
Lumberton and Purnell Swett look to be the early favorites to reach Friday's title game, although most coaches agree this year's title is wide open.
“In my opinion, anybody can win the Shootout,” said Purnell Swett coach Thomas Umphrey, who led the Rams to the 2005 Shootout Championship. “In the past there have been plenty of upsets and there's a lot of good teams in the county with losing records. So when you talk about the Robeson County Shootout, you take all the records and kind of throw them out, because kids are playing for pride.”
The 6-5 Rams open their tournament experience at home Wednesday against a 1-6 South Robeson team they've already beaten twice, although both games were close. Purnell Swett has also lost its last three games, all Two Rivers Conference matchups, and hopes to get back on track.
South Robeson assistant Donnie Carter has coached the Mustangs for most of the season, after head coach Bryan Grice took a leave of absence to be with his sick wife.
“The young men have gone through some changes, but they've adjusted well,” Carter said. “The games have been close and competitive, and we're looking to take that next step in the Shootout.”
The winner of the Purnell Swett-South Robeson game will face the winner of the St. Pauls-Fairmont game Thursday with a berth in the title game on the line.
The Bulldogs have plodded to a 2-6 start under new head coach David Shaw, but will look to get back on track in Wednesday's game at Fairmont, 0-6.
“We're gradually coming around,” Shaw said. “It's just a matter of getting the chemistry together and getting them used to Coach Shaw and what to expect as players and knowing their role on the floor.”
As for the Golden Tornadoes, coach Richard Mitchell is just looking to get his team some more experience and their first win of the season.
“It's a new season for us,” Mitchell said. “We just haven't played enough games, but the Shootout will give us three more games and the kids are coming around.”
On the other side of the bracket, the Pirates, 5-2, have a tough opening-round match-up against Scotland County on Wednesday.
Lumberton coach Ted Gaskins said he's more worried about getting more experience for his young team than winning the Tournament championship.
“It's like we're building the foundation for a house,” Gaskins said. “Hopefully by 2008, it'll be a mansion.”
Although the Pirates start three sophomores and five others who play regularly, they do have senior Matt Taylor, who averages 22 points per game and had 27 in Friday's 61-49 win over Purnell Swett.
The Scots, 3-3, probably have the most size in the Shootout, led by center Stephen Platt and Byron McKnight, who has verbally pledged to play football for the University of South Carolina.
If Lumberton can get past Scotland County, the Pirates would be heavy favorites over the winner of Wednesday's Hoke County-Red Springs.
The Red Devils are just 2-7 this year, but will open the tournament at home against 0-9 Hoke County.
“We're very young,” Red Springs coach Glenn Patterson said. “We're working hard in practice and we're going to take the Shootout as an opportunity to grow and gain more experience and try to work on our weaknesses, build on our strengths and see what happens.”