FAIRMONT — Four years ago, the difference between Fairmont baseball team and the softball teams was night and day.
The baseball team was coming off of a 15-7 season and a postseason berth but the softball team was a different story.
“When I first came to Fairmont, sometimes they would have to field eight players,” softball coach Cindy Thorndyke said.
Since then, the field’s become a bit more level.
The Fairmont baseball team continued its conference dominance with its fourth Three Rivers title in a row while the softball team put together the county’s best record, beating both Purnell Swett and Lumberton to advance to their first Slugfest championship game, earning Cindy and husband Sandy Thorndyke, the school’s baseball skipper, the Robeson County Coach of the Year awards.
“We give everything to Fairmont High School,” Sandy said. “I guess you could say we bleed black and gold.”
The baseball team had only four losses and went 14-0 in conference play during the regular season, taking second place in the Robeson County Slugfest and falling a run short of the third round of the 2A state playoffs.
The team’s only loss to a conference opponent came to eventual 1A state champion Whiteville in the Three Rivers tournament, which ended a 14-month stretch where Fairmont had gone undefeated against conference opponents.
“Any time you win a coaching award, you have to go back and remember the players,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate for the past eight, nine, 10 years. We’ve had some good players come through that are willing to work. And you have to have good assistant coaches. All of us together were on the same page and that’s what made the difference.”
A 1-0 loss to 2013 1A state runner-up Midway in the second round of the 2A state playoffs knocked them out of the playoffs earlier then planned as the Tornadoes ended up in one of the bracket’s toughest regions. The ending didn’t hamper the progress Thorndyke felt the team had made.
“We got a lot of good memories,” Sandy said. “Of course winning the regular season, beating Whiteville twice. We had a lot good memories, I don’t know if I can single out just one.”
Those memories were built around a team that is modeled after a family, and quality kids who care about each other is something both coaches feel is key in creating a winning tradition.
“We want good people, good kids and good coaches,” Sandy said.”And we want to do the right thing. Our biggest saying is it’s not about me, it’s about what’s on our chest, which is Fairmont. We say that almost every day.”
In softball, Cindy’s team went 12-9 and finished fourth in the conference. They were the county’s only softball team to finish above .500.
For Thorndyke, the Coach of the Year award that just symbolized what she had done, but what the team had done as a whole.
“I preach team team team all the time,” she said. “And it would be impossible for me to have this had my team not done their job.”
Cindy said the success has just been the fruits of hard work, and a commitment from the girls at the school, especially as she watched the commitment grow.
“This year we had even more girls than we had last year, and I’m hoping when they see that their learning how to win and what it feels like to win, that they see that they can compete with some of these folks, that by getting a little bit of exposure and a little bit of attention, that maybe that will encourage them to work a little harder and that some of their hard work has paid off,” she said.
The two teams try to maintain a positive relationship, supporting and motivating each other when they can.
“They definitely pull for each other,” Thorndyke said. “I use that and (baseball’s) success, and try to tell them look, that’s why we need to work and do the same thing. I think that by being that way, it has motivated them in that way.”
Though the coaches left their seasons satisfied, there’s also a drive to take it further.
“Just like life, it’s a competition,” Cindy said. “Just because you played there before doesn’t mean you’re going to get there again.
“We felt like we reached a lot of milestones that we had been shooting for. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not satisfied, and we’ve got a long way to go to get to where we’d like to be, but we’ve had a good season.”