ROCKINGHAM — It’s crunch time for the schools in the Southeastern Conference.
With only three games remaining in the conference slate, tonight’s contests are vital if a team wants to hold onto its postseason dreams or watch them fade away.
On the boys side, it’s simple — win and stamp your ticket to the playoffs.
Hoke County clinched its spot in the state 4A playoffs following its 92-44 victory over Purnell Swett Wednesday night. The Bucks are now 19-2 overall and 7-0 in the SEC. A win tonight at Scotland would allow Hoke to lock down the top seed in the SEC tournament because it swept the season series with second-place Richmond.
If Hoke were to lose at Scotland, it would open the door for not only Richmond but Pinecrest to finish at least tied for first in the conference. However, it would be a small chance for either because the Raiders and the Patriots will battle Tuesday night in Southern Pines.
Regardless of the outcome in Laurinburg, the Raiders (15-5, 5-2) have the opportunity to clinch themselves a spot in the playoffs as well tonight. A victory over Lumberton would guarantee Richmond could finish no worse than third in the SEC. A loss, however, keeps the Patriots, Fighting Scots and Pirates in the hunt for second.
Pinecrest (13-6, 4-3) is in the position of needing some assistance to hammer down its postseason berth. The Patriots would need to knock off the Rams, then have the Raiders down the Pirates to finish no worse than third in the standings. A loss would have Pinecrest scoreboard watching next week because while it swept the season series with Lumberton to hold that tiebreaker, it split with Scotland.
The Pirates and the Fighting Scots are currently tied for fourth with 2-5 conference marks. An upset victory by either tonight could be the difference in deciding the fourth seed in the SEC tournament. The two schools have a showdown looming Tuesday night in Lumberton. The Pirates captured the first meeting, 76-55, and a season sweep would give them the tiebreaker.
Even though it sits in last place, Purnell Swett (3-15, 1-6) still has a chance to slide up into fourth before the end of the season, but it needs a lot of help. The Rams need either the Pirates or the Fighting Scots to slip down the stretch while trying to pull off the upset against the Patriots and the Bucks.
Lumberton (16-4) and Scotland (15-3) have pulled away from the rest of field at the top of the girls standings and have clinched playoff berths. Pinecrest, Richmond and Hoke County are locked in a battle for third and fourth.
The Pirates and the Fighting Scots both have 6-1 SEC marks and the winner of Tuesday’s contest will likely grab the top seed in the conference tourney. Scotland won the earlier meeting with Lumberton by 18 points.
The Patriots are 11-8 overall and 4-3 in the league and have a game remaining with both the Raiders and the Bucks. Pinecrest defeated both schools in the first matchup and have a big tiebreaker in their pocket — a 57-47 win over Scotland. A victory tonight over the Rams would guarantee the Patriots at least a fourth-place finish in the standings.
Richmond was in position to secure at least the No. 4 seed last week, but a loss to Hoke spoiled those plans. Now the Raiders are scrambling to avoid finishing in a tie with the Bucks, especially with the top three teams in the conference left on the schedule.
Hoke, on the other hand, has a game Tuesday against Purnell Swett, which is 1-17 overall and 0-7 in the SEC. The Bucks also has contests against Scotland tonight and the Patriots next week.
The Rams have an outside chance to finish fifth in the standings, but would need help to accomplish this feat.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.