Remember the free-throw shooting discrepancy at Burlington Cummings? Or last year’s defensive shredding in Reidsville?
Postseason disappointments for a team that has won the fourth-most games (66) in the 2A ranks since the start of the 2010 season will be an afterthought tonight with a win over Clinton in the sectional final, a victory that would push the Golden Tornadoes into the Eastern Regionals at Crown Arena in Fayetteville.
A team talented enough to play for state championships since the sophomore seasons of this year’s senior class hasn’t, but at this junction, destiny seems to be on Fairmont’s side and we all know how far a little luck can go in the postseason.
The basketball gods shined on Fairmont Wednesday night half an hour after the Golden Tornadoes rallied from a 19-point deficit to upend Whiteville. Clinton’s 88-79 upset victory at Graham provided the Three Rivers Conference regular season champs with a home game in the third round, something that seemed out of reach last weekend when the NCHSAA released its seedings.
Funny how things work out.
As it stands, last week’s home loss to East Columbus didn’t damage Fairmont’s chances at a regional run. The Golden Tornadoes, who have won 31-of-33 games at their venue since 2010, get to play inside their sauna of gym a little longer than expected and that creates a tremendous advantage.
Players are comfortable with their surroundings, familiar with the rims and have the support of several hundred fans.
Fairmont became an instant contender over the summer when it added Kwinton Hinson, who moved across the country to live with his father, to its starting five. Hinson has delivered from his forward position and gives the Golden Tornadoes a wing threat vital to success against taller, equally athletic competition.
Hinson’s production has made up for graduation losses, notably losing county defensive player of the year Draquine Floyd. Guard play is ultimately where Fairmont thrives and this season has been no different. Jackie Oxendine’s return from a knee injury has taken pressure off of Jarrod Neal in the ball-handling department and provides a steady hand at point guard.
Shemar Barfield, one of Fairmont’s best on-ball defenders, is coming around offensively at the opportune time. He went scoreless against East Columbus but has responded in the playoffs with key buckets in the fourth quarter.
Barfield found the bottom of the net with 19 seconds left Wednesday, lifting his team to a come-from-behind win.
There’s light in the opposing locker room as well with Clinton, a No. 7 seed out of the East Central, coming in with extreme confidence. The Dark Horses are led by 6-foot-9 forward Thaxter Spruill, one of the highest rated juniors in the state, and have a trio of veteran guards who are playing well down the stretch.
Spruill was dominant at the defensive end, but it was the supporting cast that paved the way for Clinton’s win at Graham. The Dark Horses got career-high efforts from Shian Bradshaw and J.C. Evans to take down the Red Devils.
From here, regardless of the opponent, it’s about playing with confidence and heart. Fairmont is 32 minutes away from the next step and could end a frustrating recent postseason history with a win.
Better late than never.