ROCKINGHAM — Just like the weather, things are starting to heat up in the race for the Southeastern Conference baseball championship.
There are four teams within two games of the lead. With only the top three guaranteed a spot in the 4A playoffs, expect a wild finish to the regular season.
Pinecrest is the hottest team in the SEC. Pinecrest has won five straight league contests, after losing its first two, following its 3-0 victory over Lumberton Thursday night. During the winning streak, Pinecrest handed Richmond its first regular season conference loss in nearly two seasons.
That defeat is the only blemish on Richmond’s conference resume. Richmond is 4-1 in the SEC and 8-5-1 overall. Richmond will play host to Hoke 7 p.m. today at Raider Field.
After a 7-1 loss at Richmond, Lumberton has kept pace and until Thursday’s loss to Pinecrest was tied for first. The Pirates are now in 4-2 in the conference and are a half-game behind both the Raiders and Patriots.
Lingering in fourth place is Scotland. The Scots are 5-6 on the season and 3-3 in conference. Scotland will square off with Purnell Swett tonight in Laurinburg.
Purnell Swett is 2 1/2 games out of first and can still make a late playoff charge with games with Scotland, Richmond, Hoke and Lumberton remaining on its schedule. The Rams are 9-4 overall and 2-4 in the SEC.
Hoke would need a lot of help to turn its season around and finish in the top three in league play. One more win by either Lumberton or Richmond would mathematically eliminate Hoke from qualifying for the postseason — unless it were to win the conference tournament.
Richmond atop the softball standings
Things are crowded in the middle of the pack on the softball side as Richmond is off to a 5-0 start in the SEC and 14-0 overall. Richmond will look to remain perfect on the season today when Hoke visits Raider Field.
Purnell Swett (6-7, 4-2) trails Richmond by 1 1/2 games and will try to cut into that deficit Tuesday when it welcomes the Raiders to Pembroke. Before the Rams can turn their attention to the conference leaders, they will have to take out Scotland tonight in Laurinburg.
Pinecrest is in solo possession of third at 4-3 after its 12-2 rout over Lumberton Thursday night. Scotland is a half-game behind Pinecrest with a 3-3 mark. The Patriots are 9-4 overall, while the Scots are 6-3.
Lumberton is lurking in fifth at 2-4.
Hoke is winless in six conference games this season, but is still mathematically alive to try and claim an automatic bid into the state playoffs. However, one more win by Purnell Swett or Pinecrest would wipe that dream off the board. The Bucks could still qualify for the playoffs by taking the SEC tournament championship.
Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.