ROCKINGHAM — It is just as it was supposed to go.
With No. 1 playing No. 2.
Richmond Senior will play host to Pinecrest in tonight’s SEC baseball and softball tournament championships. Both games are slated to begin at 7 p.m.
On the baseball side, the Raiders (16-6-1) split the season series with the Patriots (19-4) as both teams won on their home fields. The Patriots claimed the first game, 5-4, and the Raiders squeezed out a 6-5 victory in the rematch.
Richmond (24-0) clinched the softball regular season championship before Spring Break and finished undefeated in conference play for the second straight year. Pinecrest (13-5) surprised many in the SEC with its second-place finish and swept all three contests with Scotland, including Wednesday’s 4-3 9-inning victory in the semifinals.
The Raiders blanked the Patriots 4-0 in Southern Pines before posting a 4-1 win in Rockingham.
With the top two teams in both softball and baseball making the finals, this means there will be no surprises when conference president Gary Brigman submits the standings to the NCHSAA Monday morning.
Richmond will be the SEC’s top seed in both sports and Pinecrest will be the No. 2 team. Lumberton will grab the league’s final automatic bid in baseball and Scotland will do the same in softball.
Now comes the question.
Will the conference send more teams into the postseason?
Until this season, the NCHSAA would take half the schools in a conference plus one into the playoffs. Now that the plus one has been wiped off the board, this leaves four wild-card berths available in the East Region in both baseball and softball. In the west, there are three spots not filled by automatic bids.
Even though Purnell Swett baseball and softball teams have strong enough records to warrant grabbing a spot in the postseason, they both could end up sitting on the sidelines.
Both teams tied for fourth in the standings, but were the fifth seeds in the conference tournament. The baseball team lost the coin flip to Scotland, while the softball was dropped a spot because it was swept by Lumberton in the regular season.
Purnell Swett had the chance to improve its postseason chances Tuesday on the baseball field against Scotland. The winner of the matchup would win the season series over the other and grab the tiebreaker. So when the Scots pulled out a 4-0 victory, the Rams fell to fifth in the standings.
This means in order for Purnell Swett and its 14-7 record to get into the playoffs, it will have to wait for Scotland (9-11) to earn a wild-card berth before the selection committee will take the Rams. This is because a team that finishes lower in the conference standings cannot leapfrog another into the postseason.
A quick glimpse at the other possible choices for wild-cards in the region, puts Scotland firmly on the bubble and leaving Purnell Swett on the outside looking in.
It is the same scenario in softball. Lumberton will be submitted as the No. 4 team in the SEC because it won the season series with its in-county rival, even though Purnell Swett won Tuesday’s first-round matchup. The Pirates are 7-14 overall, while the Rams are 8-14.
There is a small chance Lumberton might be able to slip into the playoffs, but just as it appears to be in baseball, if this were to happen, it more than likely still leave Purnell Swett out.
Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.