FAIRMONT — When it comes to his pitching, Julius Caulder has had few struggles during his freshman season.
But as he took the mound in the first inning of Wednesday’s 11-1 win against Clinton in the first round of the NCHSAA Class 2A state playoffs, there were admittedly a few butterflies.
“I just wanted to come out strong. I wanted to show the fans what I’ve got,” he said. “It was my first playoff game so I was a little excited.”
Though he didn’t show it as his team got the first six batters out, he and catcher Chance Leggett could see the nerves.
“He struggled early,” Leggett said.
“After the second inning I think I calmed down and started playing like myself,” Caulder said.
It was play that led to an quick night as he allowed two hits and an unearned run as the Golden Tornadoes (24-3) finished the first round in five innings, combining his dominant pitching with 11 hits. The game ended with one out in the bottom of the fifth.
Fairmont was one of two county teams that won Wednesday to advance to the second round of the state playoffs and will play Midway, last year’s 1A state runner-up, on Friday or Saturday.
The South Robeson softball team (11-15) also advanced, coming back from an early deficit to beat Pender 14-9. Taylor Jacobs got the win for the Mustangs, who will play at Granville Central (18-3) in the second round.
Leggett and Ryan Mayers led Fairmont’s offensive charge.
Mayers, the team’s leadoff hitter had singles in his first two at-bats and a walk in the fifth inning that led to him scoring the game-winning run.
In the case of the second inning, the two-out single led to a four-hit rally. Leggett found his stroke during the rally, hitting a two-run home run to centerfield, his fifth of the year, to score Alec Brewington.
“I was sitting curveball and I just tried to sit back and hit it on the backside, but I ended up hitting it out,” Leggett said.
He finished 2-for-2 and had four RBI, including two more on a game-ending double. The Golden Tornadoes’ top four hitters, including Mayers, Alec Brewington, Leggett and Gage Hardin, all had two hits. Cole Lovin, the five-spot hitter, went 1-for-2 with a double and a sac fly.
Fairmont coach Sandy Thorndyke said it was one of the best offensive games the team has played all year, part of which he attributed to a change in pitch speed from the Three Rivers Conference tournament.
“You go from a kid throwing 86-89 (miles per hour) to 70-73, so that made a difference,” he said. “We had 11 hits in five innings, so I’ll take that any night, win or lose.”
Clinton got it first hit in the third inning on a single by Kris Royal. The Dark Horses’ only run came in the fourth inning when Jonathan Wright hit a double that scored Chandler Whitfield, who had reached on a dropped third strike.
Tempers started to flare at points during the game. In the second inning, Clinton catcher Wade Sumner was called out as he tried to steal third. As he popped up, the umpire ejected him.
In the fourth inning, Leggett was hit on the leg by a pitch and appeared to spike the bat towards his dugout as he went to first base. Shortly after, a small altercation between Clinton first baseman Wyman Faison and Hardin caused the umpires to briefly call time so the coaches could calm their teams down. There were no ejections related to either incident and no further altercations afterwards.
Leggett later scored by stealing home.
Alex Purcell took the loss for the Dark Horses, allowing seven runs in three innings pitched.
The South Robeson baseball team (8-14) lost 11-0 in five innings at Wallace-Rose Hill. The Mustangs allowed eight runs in the fourth inning after trailing 3-0.
The Fairmont softball team also ended its season on Wednesday, falling 10-0 in five innings at East Duplin.
The Golden Tornadoes (12-9) struggled out of the gate, allowing four runs in the bottom half of the first inning, which included three errors. Fairmont finished with eight total errors in the game and notched only four hits.
Katelon Floyd took the loss for Fairmont and also went 2-for-2 to finish with half of her team’s hits.
LUMBERTON — The Lumberton soccer team couldn’t recover from an early deficit Wednesday as the fifth-seeded Pirates were upset 2-1 by No. 28 Ashley in the opening round of the NCHSAA Class 4A soccer playoffs.
The Screaming Eagles (10-8-3) took advantage of two first-half goals, including one off a bad goalie kick, and kept the Pirates (15-4) from getting open looks near the net.
“The game could have gone either way,” Lumberton coach Kenny Simmons said. “In the end it just came down to who could capitalize on the chances they created.”
Lumberton’s only goal came after Michaela Nash was fouled in the box with nine minutes left. Senior Madi Britt scored on the ensuing penalty kick, marking the final goal of her four-year varsity career. Simmons credited Ashley with playing a tight defense that kept the Pirates from making the final pass to get an open look.
He called it a “disappointing end” for the first Lumberton team to win a regular season conference championship since 2008, one that beat conference rival Pinecrest three times during the season.
“This is a great group of girls,” Simmons said. “They were a close-knit bunch. They played hard for each other.”
In the county’s only other prep soccer playoff matchup, Washington (18-2) beat Red Springs 10-0.