LUMBERTON — With 22 games in three days, there was a lot that stood out from both the baseball and softball Robeson County Slugfest tournaments, but some were more memorable than others.
The fact that the Fairmont baseball and Purnell Swett softball teams took home the trophies will be etched into the memories of the fans, teams and local sports writers for years to come. But let’s not forget about other things that shouldn’t be forgotten.
BEST GAME: While the championship contest between Fairmont and Purnell Swett was a classic in itself, the game that got the Rams to their sixth straight Slugfest championship in the semifinals against Hoke was a game that anyone that loves baseball at its purest form loved.
Both pitchers, Hoke’s Logan Goins and Purnell Swett’s Jeremiah Locklear, held both offenses in check as they took no-hitter bids into the fourth inning. The Bucks got to Locklear first with a hit and then a run in the fourth inning to tie the game at 1-all. Seven innings wasn’t enough to find a winner, and the second and final extra-inning game of the tournament ended in the eighth when Noah Evington lined the game-winning RBI single over the head of the second baseman.
With the victory, Purnell Swett gained its second win in two days, more than it had in the previous 13 games entering the Slugfest.
SOLID PERFORMANCE: Despite getting bounced from the tournament after the first two rounds, seventh-seeded South Robeson hung with the eventual champions Fairmont in the opening round, keeping a scoreless tie through seven innings before the Golden Tornadoes walked off with a sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning after starter Zack Carter was taken off the mound. To keep Fairmont scoreless, Carter tossed seven innings and allowed four hits and struck out eight batters
For perspective, Purnell Swett’s Eugene Wilkins also posted those numbers against Fairmont’s lineup in his six innings, but gave up two runs in the loss to the Golden Tornadoes.
MAGIC NUMBER: 1. As in the number of home runs hit at Finley Reed field during the entire tournament. The lone big fly came in the first consolation game between Red Springs and South Robeson. All-tournament team member Gabriel Locklear went deep to left field to take advantage of the recently-shortened fences for a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning of a 7-1 win.
BEST QUOTES: Fairmont baseball coach Sandy Thorndyke said, “Sometimes you save something and you go home with it,” after his team made the championship game and kept tournament MVP Randy Floyd available to pitch in the title game. With a lot of experience in the tournament, Thorndyke knew how important it is to throw the best available arm in hopes of advancing, and that’s what he did on Monday with his ace.
Any time a ball went out of play,anyone within earshot of the PA system at Finley Reed field heard the deep-toned voice of William Freeman saying, “That’s another Airhead moment.” That call not only became a fixture from the man behind the microphone, but also players and fans in the tournament when a ball left the field of play. For the younger fans it meant a mad dash to the foul ball to redeem it at the concession stand for a free Airhead candy.
BEST GAME: With a huge turnout in the stands and captivating drama on the field, the championship game between Purnell Swett and Lumberton was a memorable contest. However, the most exciting and well-played game of the tournament came from the consolation bracket.
After falling behind 11-1 against Fairmont, South Robeson tallied 12 runs over the fifth and sixth innings to tie the game at 13 with the Golden Tornadoes coming to bat in the seventh. Fairmont’s Mya Strickland ultimately hit a walk-off double, but South Robeson’s comeback effort was noteworthy, especially with the Lady Mustangs coming off a tough loss against No. 1 Lumberton on Saturday.
SOLID PERFORMANCE: Hoke’s Ina Womack helped the Lady Bucks start the tournament strong by tossing a no-hitter in a six-inning, 10-0 run-rule victory against Red Springs on Saturday. Womack struck out eight batters.
Although all-tournament selection Kamryn Russell took over in the circle for Hoke later in the tournament, Womack’s outing helped start a run for the Lady Bucks that ended with a loss to Slugfest champion Purnell Swett in the semifinals.
MAGIC NUMBER: 2. That number was a big difference maker for Lumberton and Purnell Swett near the end of the tournament. A pair of two-run home runs by Rachel O’Neil and Madison Canady helped the Lady Pirates overcome a three-run deficit in the fifth inning of their semifinal matchup against St. Pauls. The following night, Purnell Swett used a pair of two-run shots by Kaitlyn Hunt and Madison Strickland to take an early lead against Lumberton in the championship game.
BEST QUOTES: After taking over for teammate Chelsea Jones as Purnell Swett’s pitcher in the championship game, JaiLeana Deese had no idea she’d ultimately take home tournament MVP honors after leading the Lady Rams to a victory. Deese was so overcome with emotion after the game that she couldn’t put her feelings into words.
“Lord, I can’t even explain it. I can’t find the words to explain it right now, I’m sorry,” Deese said.
Deese was able to describe what it meant to overcome the odds and knock off the No. 1 Lady Pirates on their own field.
“Everybody was against us. Nobody was predicting us to win,” Deese said. “I guess that motivated us to come out here and show them what we’re made of.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym. Brandon Tester can be reached at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.