In fact, head coach Michael Baker reminds his Golden Tornadoes (16-4, 7-0) that they have a long way to go to match his program’s historic feat.
“If I remember right, we won 56 straight conference games from 1989 to 1995,” Baker said before Thursday’s practice. “That was in the old Waccamaw Conference with eight or nine teams. We played a 16-game conference schedule and had some really good players.
Like last season at this point, Baker’s boys are on cruise control.
Fairmont was the 2A’s top-ranked team in the state multiple weeks last year and hovered around 90 points per game. The “we’re faster and more athletic than you” recipe sparked a 20-game winning streak punctuated by a 102-point effort in the first round of the postseason.
“Nobody wants to travel three hours for a playoff game then get off the bus and go play,” he said. “We’re doing all we can to play at home in the playoffs.”
Thursday’s 29-point win at South Columbus gave Fairmont its 11th consecutive victory and 10th this season by 15 or more points. Tonight, the Golden Tornadoes travel to Red Springs where the Red Devils have sputtered to a 2-15 overall record, their worst mark since 2007.
A win on the road coupled with victories over East Columbus and St. Pauls wraps up another unbeaten conference season for Fairmont and more importantly, a top seed in the playoffs.
“We aren’t worried about how Red Springs is playing or none of that,” Baker said. “If you’re the next team up, then that is who we are concerned about. Our guys look at the matchup, look at their personnel and try to take things one game at a time.”
Baker expected his team to take a step back after graduation losses depleted Fairmont of nine players, including four starters and the team’s top three scorers. Early this season, the Golden Tornadoes’ youth was apparent in losses to West Bladen and Flora Macdonald.
The once high-powered offense was out-of-sync and the frenetic defensive pace slowed down a notch.
“I think we have shook off the rust at this point,” Baker said. “Heck, we had a whole new team this season besides Draquaine (Floyd) and Charlton (Townsend). We expected some growing pains a little bit.”
Sophomore Jarrod Neal has emerged as Fairmont’s catalyst at point guard during the defending conference champions’ recent torrid stretch. Neal has matured in the backcourt as the season has progressed and become one of Baker’s go-to options in late-game situations.
“Jarrod has bought into what we’re doing and that is what our staff liked about him,” Baker said. “We like his work habits and how he learns the game.
Neal headlined the Golden Tornadoes’ junior varsity as a freshman, leading his unit in points, assists and steals per game. Over the last three years, Fairmont’s junior varsity program has won 34 of 36 games.
“We knew we’d take a graduation hit after going 20-1 with the varsity last season,” Baker said. “We had a good nucleus of guys coming up on JV that could give us quality minutes. Jarrod has stepped in and played really well for us.”
Townsend, The Robesonian’s Preseason Player of the Year, was the only player returning off last year’s squad that played a majority of minutes. Floyd, in a reserve role, showed flashes of greatness late in games but never gave enough effort on the defensive end to solidify a starting spot according to Baker.
As a senior, the 6-foot-2 lanky forward is Fairmont’s leading scorer, rebounder and leads the area in dunks.
“I think Draquaine’s play has surprised a lot of folks not associated with our program,” Baker said. “He’s not a surprise to me. We told him this summer he would have to step up and be a leader. He understands the plays now and has gotten better on defense.”
Meanwhile, Townsend has suffered a dip in offensive production but Baker attributes that to different offensive sets and a more guard-oriented game plan.
“When Chaut was the only starter coming back and he’s a big man, it’s tough to rely on him in a scoring aspect,” Baker said. “Big men need touches and he did get a lot of those earlier this year. We’ve told him we don’t have to rely on him to score this season because we’ve got other guys that can.”
Fairmont has been so dominant over its last three games that Townsend has rested each fourth quarter.
“We’re trying to save his knees,” Baker said. “He’s a football player. He plays hard when he’s out there, but we need him healthy.”
Over the season’s final week and conference tournament play, Baker said his team will try and shake off the nemesis that led to a second-round exit last season in the state playoffs.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that we’re not good at free throws,” Baker said. “We’re working hard at it. We hit 15-of-21 the other night against South Columbus. That’s the best we’ve done in awhile. It’s never good when your field goal percentage is higher than your free throw percentage.”
Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at email@example.com