LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Slugfest served as a momentum builder for the Lumberton softball team last season, and head coach Mackie Register hopes this year’s tournament will have the same effect on the top-seeded Lady Pirates.
“Last year, we won the (Slugfest) championship. The best thing about winning the championship is we started coming together over the tournament,” Register said. “It kind of catapulted us through the last part of the season because we went on a run once we won the championship.”
Lumberton’s 4-2 victory over South Robeson in the championship game last season was the fifth consecutive triumph in what would become a 10-game win streak for the Lady Pirates, a run that ended with a loss to Hoke in the second round of the playoffs.
LeeAnn Nobles, one of three seniors on Lumberton’s roster, said the team isn’t taking a step back after last year’s performance at Slugfest.
“We have a lot of confidence that we can repeat what we did last year,” Nobles said. “If we can just hit the ball all throughout the game, we’ll be fine.”
In the circle for Lumberton will be Morgan Britt, who earned MVP honors at Slugfest last season.
Returners Madison Canady and Ariel Allbrooks were also named to the all-tournament team.
“We want to be able to come out and beat the game of softball,” Register said. “Whoever’s on the other side, we want to make sure that we’re doing the things we want to do and doing them right. If we’re playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, hopefully winning will take care of itself.”
South Robeson will have a chance to avenge last season’s loss when they face the Lady Pirates at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the nightcap of the tournament’s opening round.
Head coach Donnie Carter has one goal in mind for the Lady Mustangs to achieve at Slugfest.
“In one word, improvement,” Carter said of his expectations for the weekend. “Right now, that’s all we can accomplish. We’ve got to compete the best that we can. Every team wants to win, every coach wants to win. Sometimes that’s realistic, sometime’s that’s not. From what I’ve seen, they (Lumberton) are probably the best team in the county.”
The tournament opens on Saturday when third-seeded Purnell Swett faces sixth-seeded West Bladen at 10 a.m.
Purnell Swett head coach William Deese said his team is starting to click, and he expects the Lady Rams to carry that positive energy into Slugfest.
“We’re playing pretty good right now. The pitching’s good, we’re swinging the bats, we’re on point defensively,” Deese said. “We just want to continue that, and continue to be consistent with our play and get on a roll.”
Deese said experience will be a key factor when the Lady Rams take the field this weekend. Some of his players were with the program in 2016 when the Lady Rams beat Red Springs to claim the Slugfest championship.
“Fortunately, I have experience,” Deese said. “Everybody except our girls that came from jayvee last year are in at least their third year at Slugfest. They know what it takes to get us there.”
West Bladen also knows what it takes to win the tournament. The Lady Knights won the championship three consecutive times from 2012 to 2015.
The winner of that contest will move on to face the winner of second-seeded Hoke and seventh-seeded Red Springs, who will face off at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Red Springs head coach April Cooper’s assessment of her team contrasted Deese’s take on Purnell Swett.
“We haven’t been playing to the best of our ability lately. I need our girls to want it,” Cooper said. “I want them to put up a good fight, show off their skills and show that they’ve been coached.”
Hoke has appeared in one Slugfest championship game, winning the title in 2015 by beating Lumberton. Bethany Locklear, the MVP of that year’s tournament, graduated after last season.
Fourth-seeded St. Pauls takes on fifth-seeded Fairmont at 1 p.m. The Lady Bulldogs beat Fairmont 6-2 in their second game of the season.
Coming off of a 12-2 loss at East Columbus on Thursday, St. Pauls head coach Phillip Tyler wants to see his team compete for seven innings.
“Basically, we need to play a full game. Lately, we’ve been a little helter skelter,” Tyler said. “I just want to see a complete game, a finished game. Last night (against East Columbus) we were winning and then ended up getting the 10-run rule. Consistency is what I’m looking for.”
Fairmont head coach James Cadiz wants his team to compete, but he also wants them to enjoy the experience of being at Slugfest.
“At this time of the season, (the goal is to) just have fun,” Cadiz said. “We’ve been struggling with finishing, and I just hope the girls finish it out, all seven innings, or however many innings it takes to finish a game. We need to battle every single time.”
All games will be played at Lumberton High School.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Tester_Brandon.