Lumberton wants to get mojo back in first round of playoffs

By CAMAL PETRO,

The Lumberton Panthers have had quite an interesting road to the playoffs. The Panthers started the season by winning six of their first seven games, but now they’ve lost three of their last four.

Prior to the last four games, Lumberton’s record was sitting at 15-3 overall and 6-0 in the region. After some off-the-field distractions, Lumberton (16-6) lost two games to Resurrection and another to Purvis, with a win over Richton in-between, to close out the regular season. It’ll play Mount Olive in the first round, and interim head coach Jonathan Ladner hopes his team can get their mojo back this weekend.

“We finished up the district play with Resurrection, and it wasn’t necessarily the outcome we wanted, but we’re a second place team in the district,” Ladner said. “We’re still a good ball club and nothing is going to change that fact. I like our chances with our matchup.”

Lumberton will host Games 1 and 2 Friday. The first of the doubleheader will start at 4 p.m., and Game 2 will follow 30 minutes after. If necessary, Game 3 will be played at 6 p.m. Monday at Mount Olive.

Ladner took over head-coaching duties a day before Lumberton’s first game with Resurrection last week, and it’s been a rollercoaster ride ever since. He wasn’t part of the coaching staff prior to taking over either.

Former head coach Kody Lancaster was placed on leave before the Resurrection series, then he was fired from the district for unspecified reasons.

“It’s been a rollercoaster, but we have a resilient group of kids and they’ve responded,” Ladner said. “They understand that even though I’m not the guy who’s been out here all year, the mission hasn’t changed one bit.”

Ladner is relying heavily on his seniors. He is a football assistant coach, so he knows the players well, and seniors Jared Tribett, Davion Edwards, Antwuan Lampton and CK Bowens are trying to finish off their Lumberton career on a high note.

“I told them, ‘Guys, this is your team,’” Ladner said. “‘Ultimately, nobody is going to remember who the head coach was, but they’ll ask what you did your senior year. How far did y’all make it?’ Especially with a town like Lumberton, which is a tradition-rich community in sports, so that’s the thought. They want to accomplish a goal, and they set out freshmen year that by their senior year, they were going to be a state championship-caliber team.”

Although the Panthers have struggled to score as many runs as they’re used to lately, they’re hitting .345 as a team with Edwards and sophomore Tyler Bush leading the way with a .419 and a .400 average, respectively. Six more players average better than .300, too.

In the last four games, Lumberton is hitting just .224 as a team.

“It’s never fun going into the playoffs when you feel like you’re going in reverse,” Ladner said. “You’re backing in the playoffs, and outsiders may look at it that way, but we wanted to finish with a tough run. With the way the district schedule fell and playing Purvis, we felt like it was a chance to measure ourselves to see if we’re ready to make a run.”