It’s an all Raider affair atop the Southeastern Conference baseball and softball standings, and that is reflected in this week’s edition of my power rankings.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, each SEC contest takes on increased meaning as we approach the conference tournament and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
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 squad, 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 (16-4, 6-0)
With four conference games left on their schedule, the Raiders hold a comfortable two-game lead in the standings. They can lock up an outright championship with three wins in their final four contests.
Richmond swept its pair of games against Lumberton last week, all but eliminating the defending regular-season champion from the title contention. The Raiders won game one 8-2 in Lumberton on Tuesday, then returned to Rockingham Friday to dispatch the Pirates 5-3. Ricky Young’s squad did suffer a non-conference defeat during the week as the Raiders were beat by Bunn, 6-3, on Thursday.
The Raiders will play Pinecrest twice this week with the first contest set to take place tonight in Rockingham. The second game in Southern Pines has been pushed up to Thursday instead of Friday due to the threat of rain in the forecast.
2. Scotland (13-5, 4-2)
The Scots are one of the hottest teams in the SEC right now, winning three straight conference games and five in a row overall.
They swept their first SEC series of the season a week ago, cruising past Hoke in both contests after splitting the two-game sets with Purnell Swett and Pinecrest earlier in the year. Scotland beat Hoke 19-6 in Raeford, then followed with a 5-2 win in Laurinburg. Sandwiched between those wins was the Scots’ third victory of the week as they handled regional rival Marlboro County, 10-2, Thursday night.
Scotland is set to battle Lumberton this week — game one is in Laurinburg tonight, then the two will meet again Friday in Robeson County. The Scots need to win out and hope the Raiders stumble at least once in their series against Pinecrest if they want to win the outright conference crown.
3. Purnell Swett (12-5, 2-4)
Despite a lackluster conference record, the Rams have played like one of the best teams in the SEC all season, winning their first five games, capturing the Robeson County Slugfest championship and taking Richmond to extra innings in both matchups before eventually losing by one run in each meeting.
Purnell Swett split its series against Pinecrest, winning game one 2-1 in Pembroke but the Rams were trounced in the rematch in Southern Pines, falling 6-1. They did start this week off on the right foot, however, as Purnell Swett easily got by non-conference foe Terry Sanford on Monday, 10-2.
The Rams are in position to lock up two conference wins this week when they take on conference cellar dweller Hoke County. The Bucks have yet to win an SEC game, but will enjoy home-field advantage today when Purnell Swett visits Raeford. Game two is slated for Friday in Pembroke.
4. Pinecrest (12-7, 3-3)
The Patriots have flown a bit under the radar this year thanks in large part to their inability to separate from the rest of their SEC foes.
Pinecrest has split all three of its series thus far, including last week’s tilts against Purnell Swett. Jeff Hewitt’s team has found a bit of consistency as of late, winning three of their last four contests which includes a non-conference win over Dixon on Saturday.
The Patriots need a lot of help if they want to get back into the conference race, but they can quickly find themselves in title contention with a sweep of Richmond this week.
5. Lumberton (10-8, 3-3)
Last year’s SEC regular-season champions faces an uphill battle if they want to repeat, but the Pirates can grasp firm control of second place with a pair of wins against Scotland this week.
The Richmond sweep a week ago all but eliminated the Pirates from earning an outright title; however, as we saw during the final week of the regular season a year ago, chaos can strike quickly in the conference standings. The Pirates will need to find some consistency, though, as they have lost three in a row after winning five of six in late March and early April.
6. Hoke (2-14, 0-6)
The Bucks are the only team officially eliminated from conference championship contention, and they have yet to beat a team not named E.E. Smith this year.
Hoke did have one of its better conference outings of the year Friday against Scotland, taking an early lead before losing 5-2. The three-run defeat was the closest of the Bucks’ SEC losses this year.
1. Richmond Senior (12-4, 5-1)
The SEC’s premier program has reclaimed its usual spot at the top of the conference standings despite dropping a rare game a week ago.
The Raiders lost to rival Scotland 6-4 in Laurinburg on Tuesday, but they bounced back to claim a pair of wins before the week ended. Richmond rebounded to beat non-conference opponent Southeastern Randolph 12-1 on Wednesday, then slipped past Hoke 6-4 Friday night.
Richmond is in action for three road games this week — at Purnell Swett tonight, at Whiteville on Wednesday, and at Lumberton on Friday.
2. Hoke (12-5, 4-2)
The Bucks have only lost to one SEC opponent this season — Richmond. Outside of the two losses to the Raiders, which includes a 6-4 defeat in Rockingham Friday, Hoke has performed well in conference play.
Hoke won four games in a row before that loss to the Raiders, a streak that includes a key 5-4 home win against Pinecrest on Wednesday.
The Bucks can strengthen their grasp on a top three seed when they travel to Lumberton tonight before playing host to Scotland on Thursday.
3. Pinecrest (12-2, 4-2)
The Patriots have come back to earth a bit after winning their first 11 games, but they are still in a good spot to potentially earn a share of the SEC title or, with some help, an outright championship.
Pinecrest rebounded from a two-game skid to squeak past Lumberton 4-3 on Friday, and the Patriots have another important home conference game against Scotland tonight. Jesse Register’s girls won the first meeting in Laurinburg, 2-1.
Pinecrest wraps up its week against Purnell Swett in Pembroke on Friday.
4. Lumberton (11-6, 3-3)
The Pirates have opened some eyes with their play during the conference season — they have already won more SEC games this year (3) than they did all of last year (2).
Lumberton opened last week with a convincing 14-4 win at Purnell Swett, but suffered a damaging one-run loss to Pinecrest the following day. However, if the Pirates want to shakeup the SEC race, this is the week to do it. They will host two conference contests and three games total in Lumberton — tonight versus Hoke, Wednesday against Terry Sanford and Friday versus Richmond.
5. Scotland (7-6, 2-4)
Scotland head coach Patrick Williams perfectly summarized his team’s play this season after last week’s 6-4 victory against first-place Richmond:
“I told the girls, I’m concerned about which team will show up — will it be the ‘A’ team or the ‘Z’ team?,” he said.
The Scots are two games back of the all-important three seed in the SEC standings, and their playoff lives will depend on how they bounce back from a disappointing 6-5 home loss to Purnell Swett on Friday.
Scotland has a three-game slate this week that starts tonight when it travels to Pinecrest. The Scots will then play host to Lee County before hitting the road to play Hoke Friday.
6. Purnell Swett (9-6, 1-5)
The Robeson County Slugfest champions picked up their first conference victory last week when they left Laurinburg with a 6-5 win.
The victory was an important one for the Rams as they avoid the dubious possibility of going winless in conference play. It doesn’t get any easier for them this week, however, as they will host Richmond and Pinecrest in SEC action. A non-conference matchup against Anson is also on the docket.