LUMBERTON — William Deese knows the stakes are always high when it comes to the Robeson County Slugfest softball tournament.
As his Lady Rams prepare for the start of the 2017 edition of the event Saturday at Fairmont High School, Deese hopes history repeats itself.
“Right now we have something to live up to — being the defending champs,” the Purnell Swett coach said Thursday at the Slugfest luncheon.
After winning the Slugfest title for a record-tying third time last season, the second-seeded Lady Rams (5-11) will begin their quest for a fourth championship when they face seventh-seeded Fairmont (2-10) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Purnell Swett claimed back-to-back titles in the first two years of the event in 2010 and 2011.
“I hope that holds true this year,” Deese said of his team’s past success in the event. “I’d love to be back-to-back Slugfest champs. That’s something we’ve talked about in our meetings. It means a lot. The girls are up for it, we just have to find a little something that works for us and continue forward.”
While Purnell Swett is looking to repeat history, its rival Lumberton (11-4) is hoping to make some of its own.
The Lady Pirates have two appearances in the Slugfest title game, but are still looking for that elusive first championship. Top-seeded Lumberton will face No. 8 St. Pauls at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“I think it’d be awesome,” Lumberton coach Mackie Register said of breaking the championship drought. “It’s one of the boxes we want to check off. We’ve won (the Shootout) in basketball and (Slugfest) in baseball. We want to try to pull the hat trick.”
Register said he’s happy his team earned the top seed, but it won’t mean much once the Lady Pirates get between the foul lines.
“You have to throw that out the door because there are a lot of good teams in the tournament,” he said. “You have to play well all three days or you’re not going to win this thing — and you need a little luck, too. We’d take some of that, too.”
Fairmont coach Cindy Thorndyke is looking forward to being the host team for the tournament. It’s something that was in doubt after Hurricane Matthew caused significant damage to the facilities in October.
“It has been a lot of work,” she said. “We take a lot of pride in our facilities. We want it to look the best. … The storm took out the baseball field and kept us from going down there (to the softball field) a lot.
“We’re kind of behind the 8-ball, but I think it will turn out to be very good. We’re excited about hosting.”
With the softball field being adjacent to the baseball field, Thorndyke will also have the chance to watch her son, Seth, play from time to time. Another plus for her as the weekend begins.
“Occassionally, I get to look over and catch an at-bat,” she said. “It works out in our favor sometimes if we’re starting or finishing a little early. I like that part of having our fields close together.”
Games will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday with fourth-seeded Hoke (8-8) and No. 5 Red Springs (11-7), last year’s runner-up, starting things off. Third-seeded East Columbus (12-2) and No. 6 South Robeson (8-7) will follow at 1 p.m.
Consolation and semifinal games will be Monday, followed by placing games on Tuesday.
For Deese, it’s another opportunity for county bragging rights.
“We want to be the ones that people look at and say, ‘I want to see how we stand up against them because they’re the champions,’” he said. “We have to be ready.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.