LUMBERTON — Coming into this season, St. Pauls senior Aaron Revels wasn’t exactly sure how much leadership it would take to lead a team that lost most of his teammates from a year ago due to graduation.
Revels, the only player that was a part of St. Pauls’ Robeson County Slugfest title last year, took leadership into his own hands earlier this week, and showed interim coach Matt Hunt that he is ready to take hold of the team heading into the Slugfest hosted at Lumberton starting tomorrow.
“He sent out a text last night, a motivational speech video, that he told the players to look at before they went to bed. He’s trying to take on that motivational role,” Hunt said. “He’s played under guys like Ted McNeill and J.J. (Oxendine), and he’s taken after them.”
Revels said the feel with this team is different with all the inexperience, but his play has not taken a hit, as Hunt described the senior outfielder and pitcher as his team’s “stand-out player.”
“We’re young, but I hope we can repeat what we did last year,” Revels said. “I learned from Ted and J.J. and I’m trying to be like them. I want to see a bunch of our young people grow up and take that role.”
To advance past the first-round and try and repeat, something only four teams have done in the 26-year history of the tournament, will mean the sixth-seeded Bulldogs must take on a familiar opponent in third-seeded Red Springs. In fact, three of the first round matchups pit Robeson County and fellow conference teams against each other as No. 7 South Robeson takes on Fairmont and No. 5 Lumberton takes on No. 4 Purnell Swett.
The other matchup in the first round pits the two out-of-county teams with top-seeded Hoke taking on No. 8 West Bladen.
The first-round matchup for all four Three Rivers Conference teams is a rematch of what the teams had earlier this week on Tuesday. In the meeting of the Red Devils and Bulldogs, Darren Bowen out-dueled Revels in a pitching matchup. Hunt expects that might be the same matchup on the mound tomorrow, but will see what Revels’ feel is.
”Aaron is our go to guy. Pitch-count wise, he is ready to come back Saturday. This is his first year pitching, and I’m skeptical off putting him back on the mound just because he threw so many. We threw three guys on Wednesday that didn’t get over 50 pitches and they are pretty consistent pitchers that we game planned for,” Hunt said. “With (Bowen) on the mound against us, they are very familiar with what we want to do. We’ve just got to come out and play like we did Monday. It was good game and a few passed ball and they beat us.”
The familiarity of the teams is even stronger this year with Bowen, a transfer from St. Pauls, serving as the ace for Red Springs. The Red Devils’ staff added another arm this week with Jeritt Taylor coming back from an elbow injury.
The Red Devils enter the tournament winners of their last two games after suffering a three-game skid the week prior.
The Lumberton and Purnell Swett rivalry picks up its first meeting of the season as the familiar opponents who have shared similar woes so far in the season clash in the first round. With a combined 3-17 record, the Rams and Pirates both are itching to reverse their luck so far this year, and see Slugfest as a prime way to do it against.
“They’ve played against each other growing up and they know each other. I know they know each other more than I know any of them,” Purnell Swett first-year coach Jeff Lamb said. “It’s a great way to kick off the tournament.”
The Rams picked up their first win of the season over Jack Britt on Tuesday and will rely on one of the deepest pitching units in the tournament to try and make a run through the three-game tourney.
“Right now we are gunning for conference wins, so our No. 3 guy will go on Saturday,” Lamb said.
Both Lumberton and Purnell Swett played on Thursday night with the rest of the Sandhills Athletic Conference, and their coaches voiced that puts them at a disadvantage, as well as makes them extra cautious of the pitch counts that their players reach.
“Pitching is going to be key. Even tonight (Thursday) on how much we can throw Seth (Odum) and relief wise who we can bring in. The big part is we can compete in it with our pitching,” Lumberton coach Jeff McLamb said. “It should be fun getting to start out with our rivalry with Purnell Swett. I hope it pumps our guys up and they come out ready to play.”
Lumberton has lost seven of its last games, and hopes to use the Slugfest as a chance to string together a complete game, something it hasn’t done all season.
As the No. 2 seed in the tournament, Fairmont rode quality pitching from seniors Randy Floyd and Seth Thorndyke and sophomore Andrew Smith to claim victories in six of its last seven outings. Now the Golden Tornadoes enter the tournament looking to make a run with the three arms that are capable of helping the team make the three-game run.
The Golden Tornadoes’ first-round opponents, South Robeson, have struggled as of late with six straight losses. Injuries and pitching struggles have hampered the Mustangs, but coach Ryan Bullard said that this tournament usually is a kick-start to his team in the middle of the season.
“The last few games we have started to improve,” Bullard said. “We normally start to heat up around this time of the year and it came early so I’m hoping that will help us out.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.