The Southeastern Conference schedule was supposed to begin next week, but two schools — Purnell Swett and Richmond Senior — will get a jump start on the competition.
The Raiders and the Rams will battle tonight in Pembroke to get the SEC season underway. The contests were slated for Jan. 15, however, a testing conflict forced the administrators to switch the date.
This allows the boys team to play a game before facing preseason conference favorite Hoke, while the girls have the opportunity to face one of the squads it has finish higher than in the standings to earn a playoff berth.
Richmond boys coach David Laton knows his team has to get off to a better start in SEC play than it did last year. Despite heading into the conference opener with Hoke last season with an 11-0 record, the Raiders lost three of their first four league contest. The rough beginning forced the team to battle the rest of the way to keep itself in fourth place and earn the final automatic bid into the 4A playoffs.
After tonight’s game, Richmond will have the week off before facing Hoke and its star, Tarique Thompson. The Bucks are currently 10-1 with their only loss coming to Seventy-First on Dec. 7. Thompson and his teammates will get a chance for revenge against the Falcons and hand them their first loss in 13 games tonight in Fayetteville.
Joining Richmond and Hoke as the teams expected to battle for the SEC crown is a surprising Pinecrest team. The Patriots are 9-3 and were second in their annual Holiday in the Pines Tournament last week. In the finals, Pinecrest hung tough with Mount Zion for three quarters before falling 58-50.
The fight for the other guaranteed spot in the postseason could come down to the final regular contest.
Purnell Swett is 2-7 with victories over 1A Red Springs (1-8) and RTP Christian Academy, a start-up school in Durham. Lumberton is off to a 4-7 start under first-year coach Mackie Register. The Pirates finished second in West Bladen’s Woodmen of the World Christmas Tournament as well as the Robeson County Shootout. Scotland is winless in six contests, but should get a boost with the addition of football players Artemis Robinson and Tyron Jones to the roster.
On the girls side, Richmond girls coach Victoria DeFrate is excited to be able to turn the page and move into conference play. The Raiders have lost nine straight to fall to 2-9 on the season, but starting tonight they are 0-0.
In order reach the postseason for the fifth straight season, all DeFrate and her team need to do is be better than two other SEC teams.
Lumberton and Scotland are expected to be the class of the league with Richmond, Hoke, Pinecrest and Purnell Swett slugging it out to finish in the top four.
The Pirates are 8-3, coming off tournament titles at the Robeson County Shootout and the Woodmen of the World Christmas Tournament. Despite losing leading scorer Jonissa Monley to a broken foot, the Scots finished third in the Little Caesars Invitational in Florence, S.C. and are 8-1 on the season.
Hoke is 3-9, but has won two of its three, beating Lee County and Union Pines in the San-Lee Christmas Tournament. Pinecrest defeated Richmond in the consolation contest of the Holiday in the Pines Tournament to improve to 6-5 on the season.
It should be an exciting month as teams jockey for position in the conference hierarchy.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.