LUMBERTON — Even though the Lumberton girls soccer team had plenty of occasions to celebrate this season, the Pirates had a tendency to play it cool. There was always a bigger goal in mind.
But after beating rival Pinecrest 2-1 at the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game Thursday, the team enjoyed it.
The pounding of drums stood out from a boisterous crowd as the Pirates swarmed from their spots on the field into a huddle, with faces that showed big smiles and the occasional tear.
“It means a lot because now we’re conference champs,” said junior forward Michaela Nash. “It took us a long time to get here and we finally got here.”
It was a win that left Lumberton coach Kenny Simmons thinking about past teams and players, especially those who attended alumni games after last week’s regular-season finale. He said the program had won a tournament championship in the Two Rivers Conference, but never the Southeastern.
“This has been a long time coming. It goes back to those teams before us that came close but never won a (Southeastern) Conference tournament championship,” Simmons said. “They’ve been elusive in this conference and even in the conference before, so it’s a special night, a special group and the celebration on the field was something special.”
As the Pirates stood in the center circle waiting to receive the championship plaque, the drums continued and a group of students chanted the names of players, coaches and school administrators.
The win, Lumberton’s third against the Patriots this season, hardly came easy. In a season marked by limited defensive struggles, the Pirates struggled out of the gate and were forced to play back, especially in the first 30 minutes.
Pinecrest put nine balls on goal, compared to five from Lumberton, and consistently got in position for corner kicks and other key looks, but struggled to convert.
In an instance 13 minutes into the second half, Pinecrest had a shot that rebounded off the left post back to a Patriot, but the ensuing kick was put right back at goalie Brittany Bolin. Another shot came on a breakaway look by Pinecrest’s Hailey Jones, who drove in on the right side and missed an open look to the right of the net.
“We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had to score goals and it’s hard when you don’t score goals,” said Pinecrest coach Ray Blatz. “It makes the game difficult to win.”
Nash converted her opportunities, breaking the tie with a quick shot off a low, fast pass from senior Madi Britt 30 seconds into the second half.
“Coach told us to catch them off guard and play harder than them,” Nash said. “We did and we started scoring.”
The duo connected again with 17 minutes left, when Nash took a pass and shot it from the right side of the box to the left side of the goal to go up 2-1. She also nearly had a third goal midway through the half, which was taken away on a diving catch by Micahla Kitchen.
Blatz called Nash the player of the game and Simmons said she was likely the tournament MVP. In Lumberton’s two games, she had five goals and one assist, getting credit for involvement in six of the nine points scored.
Pinecrest’s goal came three and a half minutes after Lumberton’s first, when freshman Carly Veit scored on the rebound off a corner kick.
Bolin finished with eight saves.
The Pirates will start the state playoff tournament next week.
Fairmont baseball falls to Whiteville
RED SPRINGS — The Fairmont baseball team went nearly 14 months without losing to a conference opponent, but the streak came to an end with a 4-3 loss to Whiteville on Thursday in the Three Rivers Conference tournament championship game.
“Both teams played about as well as you could play,” Fairmont coach Sandy Thorndyke said. “It’s just two good baseball teams playing and we beat them two out of three (times this season.)”
All three games between the teams were decided by a single run.
Including matchups in the last two Robeson County Slugfests and this year’s conference tournament, the Golden Tornadoes (23-3) had gone 27-0 against Three Rivers opponents since losing 3-1 to West Columbus on March 22, 2013. The conference cancelled last year’s tournament due to rain.
The loss doesn’t affect Fairmont’s playoff positioning as the conference’s top 2A seed.
Fairmont’s Cole Lovin struggled early, allowing five of Whiteville’s seven hits in a two-run first inning, Thorndyke said. One of the final two hits was a triple that led to the go-ahead run in the sixth. Whiteville’s McKenzie Gore allowed five hits. Both pitchers finished with eight strikeouts and neither team had an error.
Ryan Mayers led the Golden Tornadoes with a 2-for-3 day at the plate. Tyler Musselwhite went 1-for-3 with two runs batted in and Chance Leggett and Lovin each recorded a hit.
Burns falls in opening round of state
CARY — Red Springs’ Kenston Burns lost in the opening round of the state tennis tournament. Burns fell 6-2, 6-2 to West Davidson’s Brett Moore. Moore was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Burns was Robeson County’s only player to qualify for a state tennis meet.
Middle school sports
MAXTON — The matchups are set for Monday’s middle school baseball and softball championships.
Prospect baseball beat Magnolia 10-6 on Thursday and will play Pembroke at home at 4 p.m. on Monday. Pembroke beat Orrum 10-5.
In softball, Chelsea Jones went 3-for-3 with a double and scored the game-winning run as Prospect beat Lumberton Junior High 4-3. Jones scored the final run after a wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh. Jailena Deese had the win in relief with four strikeouts.
Prospect will host Littlefield in Monday’s championship game at 4 p.m. on Monday. Littlefield beat Fairgrove 2-1 in eight innings on Thursday. The winning run came on a dropped fly ball.
Scott Schlaufman can be reached at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @ScottySchlauf.