FAIRMONT — As Michael Baker stood along the side of the Fairmont High School gymnasium late Tuesday night, there were plenty of distractions. Several remaining players and assistants walked around, still excited over the Golden Tornadoes’ 71-52 win against Red Springs that had finished up about 10 minutes earlier. Just feet away was a custodian sweeping trash off the nearby bleachers.
Through it all, Baker was reflective. It was the 400th win of his career.
“The community has been great fans. They’ve been with me since I came out of college,” Baker said, his eyes watering up but never dropping a tear. “They’re the ones that pushed me. They’re the ones that wanted me to do well and that drive keeps me going.
“There’s always a cousin or nephew of a player I’ve had that’s coming up next and I want them to do well too. That 400 is a community thing, it’s not me. It’s my community pushing me and my players pushing me.”
Baker hit the milestone in his 24th year coaching at the school and once the final horn sounded, the Golden Tornadoes joined their coach at mid-court, where he was presented with awards marking the milestone, as well as a standing ovation from what had been a feisty crowd for the majority of the game.
Even beyond the milestone, there was plenty at stake.
A win for the Red Devils (13-6, 8-2) would have put them next to Fairmont (15-4, 10-0) at the top of the Three Rivers Conference with four games left in league play. Instead the Golden Tornadoes won their ninth straight this season and 15th straight against Red Springs. Fairmont remains the favorite to take the conference title.
The teams played a close first half, with Fairmont taking a 29-23 lead into the break. The third quarter changed it up. Fairmont locked down defensively and dominated the boards, outscoring Red Springs 26-7 in the quarter.
The Golden Tornadoes led by as many as 25 points early in the fourth quarter before Red Springs chipped it down.
“I thought we fought in the first half, but I saw it getting away from us,” said Red Springs coach Glen Patterson. “Fatigue set in and when they got tired they started making crazy mistakes and just got away from the game plan, but I’m proud of the kids.”
It was the Red Devils second game in two days and followed a week without practice due to snow in the region. Unlike other county teams, Fairmont didn’t need to make up a game on Monday.
“We were just at a disadvantage,” Patterson said “Fairmont was able to practice last night, we were not.”
With so much at stake, the game was a competitive affair.
Red Springs never led and only tied the game once, making it 2-2 in the opening minutes.
Using a balanced attack, Fairmont never led the lead get closer than two points and led by as many as 11 after free throws by Malik Milton with 3:15 left.
As play got physical late in the quarter, players had several verbal altercations. In the minute following Milton’s free throws, two double technicals were issued. The first came after an arguement between Fairmont’s Shemar Barfield and Red Springs’ James Chavis. The second went to the Tornadoes’ Shyheim Hines and the Devils’ Markeiss Blue.
No futher technicals were issued following the second incident.
Red Springs ended the half on a 5-0 run but struggled the rest of the way. Fairmont nabbed steals for fast break points and got second- and third-chance opportunities on the offensive boards.
Barfield and Alshaquan Williams opened the second half with a 13-2 run that made it 41-23 with 5:12 in the third and Red Springs never recovered.
Williams, a sophomore, led Fairmont with 15 points, largely coming from the paint. Milton added 12, Hines had 11 and Jarrod Neal had 10. Jared Foster led Red Springs with 14 and Tavion Atkinson had 10.
Baker was pleased with how his team played and said he was almost happier about what the win sets up regarding a conference title.
“400 wins is great but right now I’m here for these guys,” he said. “I’ve had a good career and it’s players like this that made it. I wouldn’t have done anything if I didn’t have the players that have been in this community.”
The South Robeson boys (3-12, 1-8) picked up their first conference win of the year Tuesday with a 59-58 win against St. Pauls. It snapped an eight-game losing streak. The Mustangs’ last win came in the Robeson County Shootout, when they beat Purnell Swett. It’s the fifth straight loss for St. Pauls, which drops to 3-14, 2-7.
Red Springs girls rout Fairmont
When the Red Springs girls beat Fairmont in first round of the Robeson County Shootout, it came down to the wire and was decided by only two points. The teams met up again Tuesday for the third time in less than two months and the results were drastically different.
The Red Devils (10-9, 8-2) utilized their defense in a 65-13 rout of the Golden Tornadoes (3-12, 3-7), who were short several key players including Na’Jewell Ingram, who was injured in the first quarter.
It was the fewest points the Red Devils have allowed in a game this season and the most they’ve scored in a game.
“We just played defense,” said Red Springs coach Steven Sinclair. “They played defense and you never want to take them out of that because we’ve got East Columbus on Friday and that’s a big game, so I don’t want to take them out of the habit of not playing defense.”
The Red Devils finished with 31 steals, nearly double what they’ve averaged this year.
Fairmont scored only two points in three of the four quarters, getting a high of seven points in the second. Only one Golden Tornado finished with more than two points.
Sha’nia Leach led Red Springs with 20 points, Shantanna Norris had 15, and Rocio Pecina had 11. Robyn McPhaul had 13 points, nine assists, six steals and six rebounds.
In Tuesday’s other local Three Rivers conference game, St. Pauls (8-11, 6-4) beat South Robeson 45-41. The Mustangs drop to 4-10, 4-5 in conference.
Fairmont 71, Red Springs 52
Red Springs 11 12 7 22 — 52
Fairmont 17 12 26 16 — 71
RED SPRINGS — Jared Foster 14, Tavion Atkinson 10, Graham 9, Blue 6, Baker 5, Chavis 5, McLaurin 3.
FAIRMONT — Alshaquan Williams 15, Malik Milton 12, Shyheim Hines 11, Jarrod Neal 10, Barfield 7, Leonard 4, McQueen 3, Watson 3, Flicks 2, Green 2, Ransom 2.
3-pointers — RS: Atkinson, Baker, McLaurin; F: Neal, Hines, McQueen.
Fouled out — RS: Chavis.
Technicals — RS: Chavis, Blue; F: Hines, Barfield.
Records — Red Springs 13-6, 8-2, Fairmont 15-4, 10-0
Red Springs 65, Fairmont 13
Red Springs 13 21 10 21 — 65
Fairmont 2 7 2 2 — 13
RED SPRINGS — Sha’nia Leach 20, Shantanna Norris 15, Robyn McPhaul 13, Rocio Pecina 11, Brice 2, Snow 2, Mack 2.
FAIRMONT — Mitchell 7, Hinson 2, Graham 2, Clewis 2.
3-pointers — RS: Pecina 3, McPhaul 1.
Records: Red Springs 10-9, 8-2; Fairmont 3-12, 3-7.