LUMBERTON — Bragging rights on a spring break camping trip could be on the line at the 2017 Robeson County Slugfest for St. Pauls coach Kelly Chavis and Lumberton coach Jeff McLamb.
The two plan on going camping the day after Slugfest ends on Tuesday, and a possible matchup in the second round is well in reach for the two teams. It’s a matchup that both coaches wouldn’t mind having.
“I see we are on the side of the bracket as St. Pauls and me and Kelly are going camping together on Wednesday so that ought to be a fun camping trip,” McLamb said at the Slugfest luncheon on Thursday. “St. Pauls is hot. Hopefully we can meet up with St. Pauls in the semifinals and Purnell Swett in the finals. …Like I said, I’d like to play Kelly, you know friends going camping and that would be a good story.”
Lumberton takes on Red Springs in the 10 a.m. game of the opening round on Saturday. St. Pauls and Hoke County follow at 1 p.m. In the other two games on Saturday, Purnell Swett and South Robeson play at 4 p.m. and host team Fairmont battles West Bladen at 7 p.m in the nightcap.
St. Pauls and Lumberton come into Slugfest streaking, but in different directions. The Bulldogs have dropped their last two games, while Lumberton has came away with four Southeastern Conference wins in the last five games.
For second-seeded St. Pauls (13-4), its seven seniors that have been with the program from a 24-game losing streak as underclassmen and what looks to be back-to-back playoff appearances, winning this is one last goal to accomplish. The Bulldogs last appearance in the Slugfest title game was in 2007.
“They realize that we have seven seniors and honestly we haven’t been in a position to win in the Slugfest (lately), and I think mentally prepared for it,” Chavis said. “We’re excited to have seven seniors and we want to send them off on a positive note with this Slugfest.”
Coming into the mix of outstanding senior play is freshman pitcher Jeremiah Locklear for St. Pauls, who is 5-1 on the year.
No. 3 seed Lumberton’s (6-9) young pitching staff has been the difference as of late with sophomores Seth Odum and Parks Ledwell growing into their roles and hitting coming from all down the lineup. Six seniors, led by Daniel Carter, hope to bring a record eighth title back to the Pirates.
“It feels good coming in playing good. Earlier in the year, I didn’t know what in the world was going on, but we’re starting to click, starting to play better, and it’s the right time of the year,” McLamb said.
Purnell Swett (10-6) is the top seed in the tournament and will look to repeat as champions, which would be a first for the program and the first time in the tournament since Lumberton in 2012 and 2013. Coach Bryan McDonald has seen the rest of the team answered the call with a short-handed pitching staff after an ACL injury to pitcher Lucas Oxendine left him sidelined for the year.
Seniors Ethan Chavis, Ryan Graham and reigning Slugfest MVP Mckinley Strickland have held their own on the mound and Chay Locklear has transferred back to Purnell Swett this season and has been the most consistent batter for the Rams.
“This was and hopefully will be the year we have been waiting on at Swett,” McDonald said. “(Graham) has really stepped to the plate in a season where the pitch count is a big deal and a season when we are a starter down.”
Fairmont (8-7) is set to host to host Slugfest and, like Lumberton, it couldn’t have come at a better time with the Golden Tornadoes game hitting its stride on a six-game win streak. Seth Thorndyke has came on in the last week as a strong point for Fairmont on the mound going 3-0 in his last three appearances after throwing eight pitches total this season before last Friday.
“We’ve hit the ball a little better the last couple games,” coach Sandy Thorndyke said. “We’ve won six games in a row and we’ve cut our errors team and have beat some good teams. … Maybe that’s some confidence going in.”
In three of its four matchups with Fairmont and St. Pauls this year, Red Springs (5-11) has hung tight with St. Pauls and picked up an early-season win over Fairmont. The energy level from those games is what the Red Devils hope to bring into three games at Slugfest.
“Going into Slugfest, I know not very many people think we have a good chance of winning, but that’s only because y’all don’t know the guys I know,” senior Caleb Locklear said. “If we come out with a high energy level, we are hard to beat.”
Sophomores Jaylen Mack, Jayshawn Carthens and Gabriel Locklear are three of the four top hitters for No. 7 Red Springs.
No. 8 South Robeson (4-11) hopes that Slugfest can give the team bearings heading into the final stretch of the regular season, after what has been a rocky season so far with Zach Carter as the top arm among the pitching staff.
“My team is scrappy. They’re going to come out and fight you or they’re going to lay down, and I hope they’re going to fight,” South Robeson coach Ryan Bullard said.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.