The Southeastern Conference baseball and softball seasons have already swung into action as we approach the end of Easter break.
All of the teams in both sports have played at least one conference contest, and the schools will return from vacation next week to continue the pursuit of an SEC regular-season crown.
Similar to the rankings I put together during football season, I will align each team based on their play thus far this year.
As always, if you don’t like where I slotted your team, we can have a fruitful discussion about it through a friendly phone call, email, or on social media — but leave the pitchforks at home, please.
Without further ado, here are my conference baseball and softball power rankings.
1. Richmond Senior (11-3, 2-0)
The Raiders, who finished second in the conference standings a year ago before capturing the SEC tournament title, check in at No. 1 at the halfway point of the season.
Richmond recently traveled to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina to compete in the Seahawk Invitational, where the Raiders finished second. Ricky Young’s squad was trounced by York (S.C.) 13-3 in the championship game of that tourney, but the Raiders have nonetheless had a solid start to the year, and they are the only SEC school with a perfect conference record.
Richmond opened league play with a sweep of Hoke a little more than a week ago, winning the two games by a combined score of 26-4.
2. Purnell Swett (10-2, 1-1)
The Rams, after losing a road tilt at Scotland on March 22, have strung together some impressive victories since that defeat.
Purnell Swett avenged the loss to the Scots with a 1-0 win two days later, then returned to the diamond this past week to compete in, and win, the annual Robeson County Slugfest. The Rams opened tournament play with a 15-3 drubbing of fellow conference foe Hoke, then downed St. Pauls 5-4 in extra innings.
In the championship game, Purnell Swett once again got the better of a conference foe — this time, it was rival Lumberton on the losing end as the Rams won 2-1 to secure the Slugest title.
In what should be the marquee SEC series of the week, Richmond and Purnell Swett will meet Tuesday and again on Friday.
3. Scotland (8-4, 1-1)
Chad Hill’s club has missed playing a couple of games on the schedule due to rainouts, including Friday’s meeting with Douglas Byrd, so the Scots haven’t had the chance to perhaps pad their record with a win or two.
Scotland did recently partake in the Warren-Edward Invitational Easter Tournament where it finished as the runner-up. The Scots were stellar in their first two games, defeating Douglas Byrd and East Bladen by a combined score of 21-5.
But then they ran into Cape Fear and pitcher Gavin Williams in the tourney title game, and the Colts cruised to a 7-0 victory.
4. Lumberton (7-5, 1-1)
The defending SEC regular-season champions no longer have head coach Paul Hodges in the dugout, and the Pirates are still working though some early-season stumbles in their quest for a repeat title.
Lumberton, now coached by Jeffrey McLamb, advanced to the championship of the Robeson County Slugfest before falling to Purnell Swett. The Pirates split their series with Pinecrest, losing 2-1 in Southern Pines on March 22 and winning the rematch at home on March 24, 9-2.
At the time, the loss to the Patriots was Lumberton’s third in a row, but they’ve since come back to win three of four to get back above .500. The Pirates will take on SEC cellar-dweller Hoke in a two-game set next week.
5. Pinecrest (8-5, 1-1)
The Patriots got off to a bit of a slow start this year, losing three of their first five contests. After that, though, they reeled off four straight victories including winning the conference opener against Lumberton.
Pinecrest competed in the West Brunswick Beach Diamond Invitational during spring break and won the opening game against East Columbus, 7-4. However, the Patriots were bounced in the next round by East Forsyth, falling 3-2.
In the consolation bracket, Pinecrest responded to post an 11-8 win over West Columbus to end the week on a high note. The Patriots and Scots will battle twice next week, with Scotland hosting the first contest on Tuesday.
6. Hoke (2-8, 0-2)
Jamie Coleman’s Bucks are still in rebuilding mode following a winless conference campaign a year ago.
Hoke last played in the Robeson County Slugfest, where the Bucks were sent home after two days. Hoke lost the opener to Purnell Swett last Saturday, then was eliminated by Red Springs, 6-1, on Monday.
Both of the Bucks’ wins this year came at the expense of E.E. Smith in early March. Hoke outscored the Golden Bulls 31-9 in the two meetings.
1. Pinecrest (9-0, 3-0)
No, my softball rankings aren’t topped by last year’s SEC regular-season champion and perennial power Richmond. Instead, the still-undefeated Patriots sit atop the heap.
Pinecrest, which finished third in the standings a season ago, is off to a torrid start this year, winning nine straight and all three of its conference contests. The Patriots have scored at a blistering pace and their pitching and defense hasn’t been too shabby either — thus far, Pinecrest is outscoring its opponents 104-26.
In three SEC games, the Patriots defeated Lumberton 17-7, then squeaked by Scotland 2-1 in Laurinburg before dispatching Purnell Swett 3-2. In recent years, Richmond has dominated the conference race, but Pinecrest has made it clear early on that it intends to crash that exclusive party this year.
2. Richmond Senior (9-2, 3-0)
The Raiders have been a model of consistency under coach Wendy Wallace and that hasn’t changed this season.
Richmond recently competed in the Beach Diamond Invitational in Shallotte, defeating Davie 11-2 in the third-place game. The Raiders opened the tournament with a 17-3 win over South Columbus and a 3-2 victory against East Columbus.
Richmond’s quest for the tourney title did end at the hands of West Brunswick, however, as the Raiders narrowly lost, 9-8.
3. Scotland (7-3, 2-1)
Patrick Williams’ team did not take the field during the Easter break for any non-conference tournaments, but the Scots were able to notch a win in their most recent contest, coming from behind to eke out a 2-1 win against Hoke.
Last year’s SEC tournament champion has experienced every type of win and loss this season — Scotland has won in convincing fashion and in nail-biters, and the Scots have been blown out and lost a couple of one-run games.
The key for the Scots as they enter the second half of the year is finding consistent offense. They have scored as many as 20 runs in a game, but they’ve also tallied two runs or less in three contests.
4. Purnell Swett (8-4, 0-3)
Despite a winless SEC record, the Rams surpassed the Pirates for the No. 4 slot in my rankings based on their performance in this week’s Robeson County Slugfest. Purnell Swett put together an impressive three-game run — the Rams beat West Bladen 6-3 in the first round, Fairmont 4-1 in the semifinals, then blew out Red Springs 9-0 in the championship match.
The Rams will look to build on their Slugfest successes when they re-enter SEC play next week as they have already fallen three games out of first place. Purnell Swett nearly edged out Scotland and Pinecrest earlier in March, losing both games by one run.
5. Lumberton (7-5, 1-2)
The Pirates, like their baseball counterparts, are 7-5 overall.
Lumberton entered the Slugfest tournament on a two-game losing streak, but it picked up a pair of much-needed wins en route to the tourney title game. The Pirates handled St. Pauls 11-0, then took care of South Robeson 8-2.
Through Lumberton is currently fourth in the standings, the Pirates have been outscored 17-36 through three SEC games — a trend they will surely have to remedy if they hope to avoid the conference basement.
6. Hoke (8-5, 0-3)
The Bucks’ SEC results thus far can best be described as “close, but no cigar.” Hoke hung tough with Richmond before losing 5-1, then followed with an 8-7 defeat in extra innings to Lumberton.
Two days later against Scotland, the Bucks led for most of the way before suffering a one-run loss to the Scots.
Hoke has put up a ridiculous 150-37 run differential this year, but its record doesn’t match those gaudy numbers. Four of its five losses have come by one run, which offsets blowout wins over the likes of non-conference foes Douglas Byrd and E.E. Smith.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.