The first round of the state baseball playoffs is one week away and two teams appear to have enough pitching to survive the opening round.
A third, Purnell Swett, is hoping to re-establish some of the magic acquired over spring break and maneuver that into the middle of May.
Top-seeded Fairmont is Robeson County’s only team with a definite home game on May 14, but Lumberton could join the Golden Tornadoes with a gut-check victory tonight in the conference tournament semifinals. The Rams, Red Springs and South Robeson will get in, but where each program will travel remains a guess at this point.
6. St. Pauls (3-19): Monday’s 9-3 loss to Whiteville in the Three Rivers Conference tournament was a microcosm of the Bulldogs’ season. St. Pauls fought 4.5 innings against the league’s second-best team before unraveling in the fifth. Attribute that to the lack of quality arms in the bullpen or rather a single shutdown closer who can come into the game and keep the opposition in check. St. Pauls managed double-digit hits including a 3-for-4 outing from Justin Baker but couldn’t figure out the Wolfpack’s freshman lefty at the back end of the contest.
5. South Robeson (9-12): April was a challenge for the Mustangs as Ryan Bullard’s young squad plummeted toward the bottom of the county rankings after posting just three wins in 11 games. Mental lapses on defense along with inexperienced starting pitching has led to South Robeson’s up and down campaign.
4. Red Springs (11-11): To earn a home game in the first round of the playoffs next week, the Red Devils needed to run the table and capture a conference tournament championship but South Columbus had other plans in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. A possible road game at Croatan appears to be the likeliest destination for a senior class looking to overcome last year’s first-round loss to Union.
3. Purnell Swett (14-7): Tuesday night’s loss at Scotland in the Southeastern Conference tournament puts a damper on an otherwise impressive late-season stretch for the Rams who have been clinging to playoff hopes for what seems like a month. With 14 wins, Swett’s an attractive 4A wild-card selection but needed another victory to lock-in a wild-card berth. If the Rams aren’t invited, they can hang their hats on a Robeson County Slugfest championship along with a win at Lumberton on senior night before prepping for the summer season. Their current record however should be enough since it’s unlikely the selection committee finds three other teams with better records.
2. Lumberton (15-8): The Pirates’ overall lack of offense this season should keep fans on high alert against playoff competition for the simple fact that Lumberton’s going to see no worse than a team’s second-best pitcher in the opening round of the 4A postseason. A third-place regular-season finish based on a coin flip means a win tonight over Pinecrest in the SEC tournament semifinals for Paul Hodges’ club clinches a high seed and home playoff game next week. Evan Odum’s thrown 11 1/3 innings against the Patriots this season and has given up just three earned runs with 21 strikeouts.
1. Fairmont (22-2): The Golden Tornadoes managed several hits with runners in scoring position during Monday’s win over East Columbus, a good sign moving into the portion of the slate that will define this year’s team. Throughout the season, Fairmont’s appeared strong enough to make a third-round run — perhaps further — if the bats come alive. Similar to Lumberton’s deficiencies at the plate, the Golden Tornadoes’ pitching gives them a fighting chance against any of the 2A’s top teams in the East. They’re going to need multiple quality outings from Cole Lovin to reach the second week of the playoffs.