FAIRMONT — J.J. Oxendine has felt comfortable on the mound at Fairmont High School during his last two starts on that hill in the past two weeks.
On April 17, he threw a one-hitter to help the St. Pauls baseball win the Robeson County Slugfest title over Purnell Swett, and on Wednesday he pulled some of the same pitching magic again on the same mound, this time to clinch a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs.
“I like Fairmont’s mound, but I just try to throw strikes and I know my defense will back me up,” he said.
Oxendine allowed three hits in his complete-game effort to guide the Bulldogs to a 4-0 win over Fairmont in its regular season finale, giving St. Pauls the Three Rivers Conference’s top 2A seed for the NCHSAA state baseball championship that start next week. He had the solid outing all while battling cramps that came on after he threw his first warm-up pitch before the bottom of the first inning.
“I was a little worried in the beginning simply because of the cramps,” St. Pauls coach Kelly Chavis said. “That’s just J.J., he’s an ultimate competitor. He might have fought me on the mound if I would’ve tried to take him out.
“We took advantage of their mistakes. They’re a good baseball team, and they’re not going to make many mistakes. If you can take advantage when they make one, that’s the difference in the ballgame.”
Avoiding trouble for the most part, Oxendine had 10 strikeouts, but his ninth that came in the bottom of the sixth was the most emotional.
Fairmont (11-9, 7-6 TRC) loaded the bases with no outs and sent senior Tyler Hodge to the plate looking to cut into a 3-0 lead. Hodge hit a soft grounder back to Oxendine, who threw to home to start a double play at home plate and first base. Oxendine then caught Randy Floyd looking to get out of the inning and the senior pounded his chest heading back to the dugout.
“It’s hard to come out of the inning with the bases-loaded and no outs. At 3-0 they could’ve taken advantage of the game,” Oxendine said. “Coming out of that, it was big.”
That inning seemed to be the tale of the game for the Golden Tornadoes, as it left five runners stranded in the game.
“We had it just like we wanted with a senior at the plate,” Fairmont coach Sandy Thorndyke said. “J.J. did a good job pitching and they made a play. That’s baseball.”
After both teams went through the first two innings scoreless, St. Pauls (19-4, 10-4 TRC) struck first when Oxendine helped his own cause with an RBI single to score Ted McNeill from second. McNeill scored three of the four runs for the Bulldogs in the lead-off spot.
“You’ve got to have a table-setter. I always look at if Ted comes out and he gets on in our first at bat, we’re going to have a good game,” Chavis said. “That’s how it has been all season.”
Aaron Revels and Dawson Caulder also added RBIs for St. Pauls, as it finishes the season with six straight wins heading into the postseason.
“Double-digit wins in this conference, that speaks volumes to me. This is a tough conference,” Chavis said. “If we can continue to get better and get the pitching performances we’ve been getting recently, we’re going to scratch a couple here or there.”
Julius Caulder had two of the three hits on his senior day for Fairmont.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.