Say what you want about the seeding — it is voted on by coaches after all — but the Robeson County Slugfest at Red Springs is Lumberton’s tournament to win this season, jokingly labeled the ‘Pirate Invitational’ a season ago after the program’s seventh title in the last 11 years.
Lumberton, seeded third this weekend behind Fairmont and Purnell Swett, has taken the business trip angle in recent years in the spring break kickoff tournament, capturing the crown multiple times behind a deep staff and timely hitting.
It should come as no surprise when the Pirates take on Fairmont Tuesday night in the grand finale. Purnell Swett’s coming in limping in what promises to be an exciting semifinal — should both avoid Saturday upsets — while the Golden Tornadoes haven’t been touched in over a month.
Lumberton and Fairmont met in the championship game at Fairmont in April 2011 during a contest that got away from future two-time county player of the year Alex Britt in the sixth as the Pirates cruised, 14-2. A possible Cole Lovin-Justice Sampson mammoth matchup is what the fans will pay to see, but both teams will have to go through local league rivals to get there.
6. St. Pauls (2-14) — All would be forgotten for the Bulldogs this season if St. Pauls could make an improbable run to next week’s Slugfest final, but that seems unlikely with a team ERA just over 6. In 93 innings, the Bulldogs have given up 121 hits and 84 walks — not the recipe for success Kelly Chavis cooked up calling pitch type and location from the dugout. He’s seen promise in a young team, especially from junior starter Richard Thomas and sophomore lefty Robert Hancock. If those two continue to develop, St. Pauls should have two reliable options — with experience — in the rotation next spring.
5. South Robeson (6-8) — Monday’s loss to East Columbus was the Mustangs’ eighth in conference play after a promising start that featured the highly-talked about win over second-place Whiteville. South Robeson travels to St. Pauls today before opening Slugfest play on Saturday against top-seeded Fairmont.
4. Red Springs (7-7) — The late-season slide’s continuing for the Red Devils who have been ripped apart at the seams in recent conference losses to South Columbus and Whiteville. In Friday’s game against the Wolfpack, Whiteville won its 10th game of the season in blowout fashion with 18 runs at Tom Cope Park after knocking starter Nakoya Maynor out of the game before the end of the first. The Red Devils have one win this season over a team with a winning record and that came nearly three weeks ago against West Columbus.
3. Purnell Swett (9-5) — Playoff hopes are dwindling at Swett where the Rams, who at one point turned heads following an 8-0 start, seem to have hit a roadblock during Southeastern Conference play. Lack of pitching depth has led to five losses in their last six games while inconsistency through the order puts Swett on the outside looking in toward the league’s three automatic postseason berths for its top three finishers. A wild-card spot is still very much in play, but the Rams need wins and have a chance to get them this week tonight against Richmond and in the Slugfest.
2. Lumberton (10-6) — Just how good has the Pirates’ pitching been over the last month? Lumberton’s only given up more than five runs in one game and has held eight opponent to three runs or fewer. Being able to stay within striking distance — even in losses — has made this year’s club a formidable one. Last week’s shutout loss to Pinecrest played out a lot like a major league game — a single crooked inning was enough for the Patriots behind a dominant left-hander. Thursday’s home game against Richmond puts Lumberton back in the thick of the conference race with a victory, but a loss makes things mathematically difficult with only two games remaining. The Pirates are a playoff competitor and they’ve shown that throughout with consistency on the mound.
1. Fairmont (15-1) — Now ranked second in the state 2A ranks per Impact Baseball riding a 13-game winning streak, the Golden Tornadoes were nearly flawless in March and have kept it going in April with five victories. Fairmont’s 2-3-4 hitters have combined for 43 of the team’s 84 RBI this season. Gage Hardin’s emerged as a viable No. 2 with Alec Brewington rounding out the rotation. Those two will likely start the first-round and semifinal Slugfest games before Lovin toes the rubber in the final. Coach Sandy Thorndyke says his team is only worried about getting past Saturday and not looking ahead. Should the Golden Tornadoes win games against Red Springs today and Whiteville tomorrow, they will clinch another Three Rivers Conference championship.
Reach Brad Crawford at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.