Back on the diamond: Previewing Robeson County’s baseball and softball teams


By Rodd Baxley - By Jonathan Bym - rbaxley@civitasmedia.com



Jonathan Bym | The Robesonian file photo Purnell Swett’s McKinley Strickland leads a talented Rams team as a go-to pitcher and power bat. The senior is coming off a season in which he was named Slugfest MVP.


Jonathan Bym | The Robesonian file photo Arguably the best softball player in the area, Lumberton’s Madison Canady is coming off a stellar freshman campaign for the Lady Pirates. Expect her to be even better this season as she eyes player of the year honors.


With spring sports kicking into high gear, Robeson County’s baseball and softball teams are sure to be in the spotlight as the season progresses.

The county returns a few stars from last season, with others hoping to make a name for themselves as the new year begins.

Here’s an early look at what each team brings to the diamond in 2017.

BASEBALL OUTLOOK

FAIRMONT GOLDEN TORNADOES

Coach: Sandy Thorndyke

2016 record: (23-7, 10-4)

Top players: Seth Thorndyke (Jr., INF/P); Tyler Hodge (Sr., INF); Randy Floyd (Jr., INF/P)

Outlook: Fairmont starts a new era after the departure of two-time Robeson County Player of the Year Cole Lovin and hard-hitting infielder Tyler Musselwhite helped the Golden Tornadoes advance to the regional semifinals of the 2A state tourney in back-to-back seasons. Looking to fill the holes and step up from solid years last year will be Seth Thorndyke and Tyler Hoddge, two batting threats for Fairmont. The pair make up the four returners from last year along with the return of Julius Caulder. All will be looked to produce in the field, at the plate and several will be looked to come through on the mound this season. “I think we can be pretty good defensively,” Thorndyke said. “Our defense will be ahead of our offense because we’ve got players that have never had to step up and play in pressure situations.”

LUMBERTON PIRATES

Coach: Jeff McLamb

2016 record: (10-13, 3-7)

Top players: Daniel Carter (Sr., P/INF); Kris Allen (So., INF/P); Dakota Sanchez (Jr., OF)

Outlook: McLamb still feels confident with his pitching even with the departure of Evan Odum, who is now at UNC, Alec Brewington this season for Lumberton. The second-year coach has the arms, and bats, of Daniel Carter and Kris Allen to lean on. Both will be looked upon as leaders with a young crew for the Pirates with three returners, but there is prosperity coming with the inexperience. “I think we’re good defensively, we run the bases well with a lot of speed and we’ve got five quality pitchers,” McLamb said. We don’t have the horse that we’ve had the past couple years, but we have five good pitchers that can carry us a long way.”

PURNELL SWETT

Coach: Bryan McDonald

2016 record: (18-8, 6-4)

Top players: McKinley Strickland (Sr., P/INF/OF); Ethan Chavis (Sr., P/INF/OF); Chay Locklear (Sr., C/INF)

Outlook: Coming off a school-record 18 wins that included a Slugfest championship, the Rams enter 2017 with the highest expectations among county teams because of the talent returning. Purnell Swett is led by a pair of lefties in McKinley Strickland and Ethan Chavis, both of whom are expected to be the team’s top performers on the mound and at the plate this season. Bryan McDonald’s one huge concern entering the season is the injury bug, which bit the Rams early with standout pitcher Lucas Oxendine expected to miss the entire season. “We have to get healthy,” McDonald said. “We have a lot of good arms with the core of the ball club back. As always, in my years here, I depend on pitching and defense.”

RED SPRINGS

Coach: Chris Howell

2016 record: (13-12, 5-9)

Top players: Jaylen Mack (So., C/UTL); Jayshawn Carthens (Jr. P/UTL)

Outlook: With just one starter returning from last year, Red Springs will look to retool while working around its growing pains this season. The one returner from last season, Jaylen Mack, will look to improve upon his standout freshman campaign in which he earned Robeson County Freshman of the Year after batting .324 with 10 RBIs. He will be looked to do more than just catch like he did last season, including being one of the many arms the Red Devils will use pitching after losing all their pitchers from last year. “Anytime you’ve got a young team, you know it gets better after every game,” Howell said. “The main thing is there is going to be growing pains with a young team. … Last year we made long-term goals, but this year the goals are more short-term.”

SOUTH ROBESON

Coach: Ryan Bullard

2016 record: (4-17, 2-12)

Top players: Zack Carter (So., SS/P); Cody Scott (So., C); Kevin Chavis (Jr., INF)

Outlook: The Mustangs are a young, but talented bunch with the return of a few key faces from last year’s team that struggled. South Robeson is led by a pair of sophomore standouts in Zach Carter and Cody Scott. Carter, the team’s top returning pitcher and all-county performer, will look to fill the void left by Devin Smith. Scott will be doing the catching and provide a top bat for the Mustangs. Junior Kevin Chavis is also expected to bring offensive production for the young Mustangs.

ST. PAULS

Coach: Kelly Chavis

2016 record: (15-13, 6-8)

Top players: Ted McNeil (Sr., INF/P); Jacob Oxendine (Sr., INF/P); Jeremiah Locklear (Fr. P/INF)

Outlook: The Bulldogs are coming off an historic season that saw the team go from a winless 2015 campaign to a pair of playoff wins in 2016. Kelly Chavis’ bunch will be dealing with high expectations for the first time in quite some time in St. Pauls, with a bulk of the team returning this season. Seniors Ted McNeil and J.J. Oxendine will anchor the infield and top of the lineup for the Bulldogs, with newcomer southpaw Jeremiah Locklear leading the way on the mound. “We just try to tell those guys that last year is over with. We’re not looking behind us; we’re looking in front of us,” Chavis said. “People know we’re an improved team so they won’t be looking past us anymore. We have three to four quality arms behind Ted and J.J.”

SOFTBALL OUTLOOK

FAIRMONT GOLDEN TORNADOES

Coach: Cindy Thorndyke

2016 record: (7-14, 5-9)

Top players: Grace McMillian (Jr., UTL/P); Kaylee McMillian (Jr., P/UTL); MacKenzie Johnson (So., INF)

Outlook: With a young team this season, Fairmont looks to continue to grow behind the play of its young leaders. The McMillian twins will be leaders for the team at the plate and out in the field as two of the three starters returning from last year. MacKenzie Johnson is the other returner with newcomer Mya Hunt already leaving an immediate impact with the team. “We are going to try and teach the game a little more their year and try to be competitive,” Thorndyke said of the youth. “We are young but that keeps us positive knowing that in time this group will be juniors and seniors.”

LUMBERTON PIRATES

Coach: Mackie Register

2016 record: (16-11, 4-6)

Top players: Morgan Britt (So., P/INF); Madison Canady (So., INF); Kasey West (So., C/OF)

Outlook: After a run to the second round of the 4A state playoffs last year, the young experience of Lumberton eyes more this year. With the reigning county Co-Player of the Year in Madison Canady, the young talented arm of Morgan Britt and three seniors returning, the Lady Pirates bring a lot of firepower back to a team that peaked late. Hitting will be a big strength of the team with power coming from several players along the lineup. “If we can work hard and do the little things right, I feel like we can compete with anybody,” Register said. “We’ve still got a few question marks in some positions, but we have a lot of girls competing to fill the positions. I’m really excited and feel like we can compete for a conference title.”

PURNELL SWETT

Coach: William Deese

2016 record: (12-11, 2-8)

Top players: Hunter Bullard (Sr., LF); JaiLeana Deese (So., P); Desaree Dunham (Sr., INF)

Outlook: The Lady Rams come into 2017 with a wealth of experience, returning a bulk of starters from a team that won the Slugfest championship last season. Led by sophomore standout JaiLeana Deese, the team’s top pitcher, William Deese hopes his team can continue to make strides this season. Deese said pitching could be a weakness for the Lady Rams, but offensively they should be fine with Hunter Bullard and Magan Barton leading the way. “We feel like we definitely can compete,” Deese said. “With all but two ballplayers returning, my expectations are to continue getting better.”

RED SPRINGS

Coach: Robert Dove

2016 record: (12-11, 6-8)

Top players: Kelsey Locklear (Sr., INF); Kyra Locklear (Sr., INF); Marya Oxendine (Sr., C)

Outlook: Entering his fourth season as Red Springs head coach, Dove has a wealth of seniors this year that have been with him since the start. Leading that crew is the twins Kelsey and Kyra Locklear in the infield, Marya Oxendine behind the plate and Chelsea Gonzalez in the outfield. This group will look to hold down the team on defense with freshman Katelyn Culbreth taking over pitching duties, while also filling the hitting void left by Angelica Locklear. “We’ve got a good core of seniors that can help make us an excellent team,” Dove said, “but in softball you can only go as far as your pitching can take you.”

SOUTH ROBESON

Coach: Donnie Carter

2016 record: (12-10, 8-6)

Top players: Harmony Oxendine (Sr., P); Halei Chavis (Sr., UTL); Destiny Strickland (Jr., SS/P)

Outlook: With a lot of returning starters, Donnie Carter’s Lady Mustangs have become more well-rounded and are poised to put themselves in a better position than last year. With senior captain Halei Chavis anchoring the infield and top of the lineup, South Robeson should improve this season. The Lady Mustangs also have two of the top pitchers in the county in senior Harmony Oxendine and junior Destiny Strickland.

Coach: Phillip Tyler

2016 record: (6-17, 3-11)

Top players: Danielle Gray (Jr., P/UTIL); Heather Jacobs (Sr., INF/OF); Brianna Brewer (Fr., P)

Outlook: The Lady Bulldogs struggled last season with a roster full of young players. Heading into this season, St. Pauls is experienced, looking to finally see results from its growing pains. Phillip Tyler said he’s looking for “consistency and competitiveness” this season behind upperclassmen Danielle Gray and Heather Jacobs. Newcomer Briaanna Brewer will also provide the Bulldogs a lift in the pitcher’s circle. “We are just trying to continue to get better one game at a time and compete for seven innings,” Tyler said. “We want to develop solid softball student-athletes that play the game the right way.”

Jonathan Bym | The Robesonian file photo Purnell Swett’s McKinley Strickland leads a talented Rams team as a go-to pitcher and power bat. The senior is coming off a season in which he was named Slugfest MVP.
http://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/web1_McKinley.jpgJonathan Bym | The Robesonian file photo Purnell Swett’s McKinley Strickland leads a talented Rams team as a go-to pitcher and power bat. The senior is coming off a season in which he was named Slugfest MVP.

Jonathan Bym | The Robesonian file photo Arguably the best softball player in the area, Lumberton’s Madison Canady is coming off a stellar freshman campaign for the Lady Pirates. Expect her to be even better this season as she eyes player of the year honors.
http://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/web1_Canady2.jpgJonathan Bym | The Robesonian file photo Arguably the best softball player in the area, Lumberton’s Madison Canady is coming off a stellar freshman campaign for the Lady Pirates. Expect her to be even better this season as she eyes player of the year honors.

By Rodd Baxley

By Jonathan Bym

rbaxley@civitasmedia.com

Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.

Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.

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