RED SPRINGS — Sandy Thorndyke stopped short of calling last week’s win over South Robeson a failure Monday night, but the lasting remnants of what he considered a subpar performance during Fairmont’s regular-season finale carried over a bit in the Golden Tornadoes’ first-round Three Rivers Conference tournament game against East Columbus.
His team was sluggish in the early innings against the eighth-seeded Gators and was beginning to press a little.
“It almost didn’t feel like a win against those guys,” Thorndyke said, referring back to the victory over the Mustangs that clinched a perfect season in league play. “We didn’t swing the bats well and didn’t play our best baseball defensively. I think we kind of started tonight’s game the same way.”
Fairmont eventually put up a four-spot in the fifth to break open a 7-4 victory over East Columbus at Red Springs, but the outing left a lot to be desired according to Robeson County’s frontrunner for coach of the year.
“We’re going through the motions at times, and you really want to see your team playing sharp this late in the year,” Thorndyke said. “We want to win two more games this week and get to the playoffs as regular season and tournament champions. We can establish momentum by doing that.”
Gage Hardin managed to keep the Gators at bay long enough for Chance Leggette’s left-handed bat to chase East Columbus starter Bradley Olson in the fifth with a run-scoring triple to the corner in right. Hardin ran out of gas in the sixth, but by then, his night was done en route to his fourth win.
“We’re still progressing as a team and that takes time,” Hardin said. “We’re not the best offensive team, but we’re getting better.”
Hardin’s one of three sophomore starters who make up Fairmont’s rotation. Watching Lovin toss five complete games along with multiple shutouts this season has motivated him to continue pounding the zone.
“When Cole goes out there, I know he’s not giving up any runs,” Hardin said. “I don’t throw it as hard, but I just worry about throwing strikes. I try to match what Cole does. We’ll need more than one pitcher to win in (the playoffs).”
Fairmont improved to 22-2 overall, 2-0 since the Slugfest championship loss to Purnell Swett snapped a 17-game winning streak. The Golden Tornadoes play the winner of today’s South Columbus-Red Springs matchup in one semifinal on Wednesday.
Monday’s early-game winner, Whiteville, takes on South Robeson or West Columbus. The Wolfpack dropped St. Pauls, 9-3.
Reach Brad Crawford at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.
Monday’s box scores
Three Rivers Conference Tournament
Whiteville 9, St. Pauls 3
St. Pauls1101000—311 0
WP — Grainger. LP — McNeill.
Leading hitters — W: Grainger 2-4, 2B; Hood, 2-3; Ward 2-3. STP: McKeena 2-3; Baker 3-4; Oxendine 2-4; Bullard 2-3.
Records — St. Pauls 3-19; Whiteville 15-5.
Fairmont 7, E. Columbus 4
WP — Hardin. LP — Olson.
Records — Fairmont 22-2.