Fairmont’s recipe for success has been easier said than done in recent weeks, but the Golden Tornadoes got back to basics in Monday’s playoff win over East Duplin with a combination of the three during a second-quarter explosion.
Coach Michael Baker’s squad used one of its patented runs over a four-minute span to pull away from the Panthers and cruise to the program’s fifth consecutive first-round victory, shaking off any lingering effects of a disappointing home loss to East Columbus in the league tournament finals.
As Fairmont’s seniors are quick to point out, it only gets tougher from here.
Tonight’s opponent is future Three Rivers Conference challenger Whiteville, the Waccamaw Conference Tournament champion and neighboring Columbus County rival to the east.
The sixth-seeded Wolfpack (20-7) have won six straight games and like the Golden Tornadoes, attack the rim with a talented sophomore guard in Shaun Kirk.
“We’ll try to get as much information as we can from any team that’s played them, but we do know their style is a lot like ours,” Baker said. “They pressure the ball and they like to run. It’s too late to change anything for both teams now, so I guess we’ll see who plays better at their game.”
Baker reiterated the importance of crashing the boards to his players after Tuesday’s practice against an opponent who thrives off the fastbreak.
“If we don’t keep our pressure up and get position down low, we’ll be in trouble,” Baker said. “They’ve got a good team and we’re expecting to fight.”
A possible date with second-seeded Graham (22-5) looms for the winner of tonight’s game. Fairmont’s last three seasons have each ended in road playoff losses — Reidsville, Cummings and Northwood. Should No. 7 Clinton (20-7) upset Graham tonight, the Golden Tornadoes would host the Dark Horses on Friday for a berth in regionals.
“We’re worried about handling our business against Whiteville first,” Baker said. “If we don’t do that, the season is over.”
South Robeson’s girls (14-8) appear to have a taller task, embarking on a nearly three-hour road trip to unbeaten Lejeune (23-0). Led by senior Chatori Major, the top-seeded Devil Pups are coming off a 12-point win over Wallace-Rose Hill in the first round and have one of the stiffest defenses in the 1A ranks giving up only 33.9 points per game.
The Lady Mustangs are no stranger to challenging postseason matchups having beaten several high-seeded programs on their way to regionals in 2009 and 2010. South Robeson snapped No. 1 seed River Mill Academy’s 19-game winning streak in Greenville three years ago to reach the state semifinal with all-state guards Nicorie Sinclair and Krista Davis.
Freshman Aterria Quick leads the new breed along with veterans Virginyia McCormick and Ahlea Dickens.
“We’re a different team led by different players, but I think we have the same confidence level,” South Robeson coach Lula Ratley said. “We know our next game will probably be the toughest of the season, but we’re going to go play it and give it our best shot.”