Griffins Take Talents to the Hardcourt

Girls’ Preview

The Lady Griffins of Fairfield Central are coming off a resurgent 2011-2012 season, a season that saw the Lady Griffins finish in second place in the region in their last year at the 3A level and sent them into the state playoffs after a long postseason drought. Although Fairfield Central was bounced in round one by Blue Ridge (50-41), the young and relatively inexperienced squad of head coach Cedrick Simpson built tremendous momentum for this year’s run at the class 2A crown.

With the loss of two key seniors from last season’s squad – Janelle Watkins and Jazmin Bostick – the Lady Griffins are still young, but return their entire starting five, all of whom have a year of 3A experience under their belts from dueling with the likes of Nation Ford, South Pointe and York. In addition to his seasoned starting five, Simpson said he has some even younger up-and-comers filling out his bench, an element he said will be key during the long haul to February.

At the top of Simpson’s list of returners is senior Chelsea Seibles, a shooting guard ranked in the top five among Class 2A seniors in the state. Kaneka Butler, Simpson’s only other returning senior, will play a big role for the Lady Griffins as post, but Simpson doesn’t expect to have her back in the lineup until after the new year as she is currently recovering from a back injury. The remaining cast members consist entirely of juniors – Jada Martin, Christian Thompson and Tiea Quanna Pearson.

Simpson will also look for a lot of minutes from his supporting cast, including junior Raven Rivers, sophomore Patrice Jeter and freshmen China Moore and Tanise Davis. Moore, particularly, will get a lot of floor time as Butler continues to heal. In spite of having a bench so heavily anchored by freshmen, Simpson has a lot of confidence in his reserves.

“Having freshmen in there doesn’t change anything,” Simpson said. “The system was put in last year, and everybody knows what they’re doing. Having a strong bench is important, and we’re going to need that support down the stretch.”

The Simpson system – a fast tempo of driving and kicking out, spread and cut, pick and roll – bore fruit at the 3A level last season. This year it will be tested against 2A Region III, a conference built around the traditional basketball powers of Keenan and Eau Claire.

“It is a basketball region,” Simpson said. “Keenan is strong. If we stay healthy, we’ve got a good chance to get back into the playoffs.”

So far, so good.

The Lady Griffins are 3-0 thus far, and are ranked fourth in the state. They kicked off their season with a 58-54 win at Chester Dec. 4, followed by a 52-27 win over Great Falls Dec. 7 and a 51-23 win over Newberry Saturday. The Lady Griffins were off to Lexington Tuesday to test themselves against the 4A Wildcats and host Chester tonight (Dec. 14) at 6:30.

Boys’ Preview

With more than half of their roster consumed by a run to the Class 2A state football championship game, the Fairfield Central Griffins boys’ basketball team has got a lot of ground to make up before diving into the meat of their 2012-2013 season. With losses to Chester and Newberry and a narrow win over Great Falls on their resume, the Griffins are off to a 1-2 start going into a week where they were to travel to Lexington Tuesday night and play host to arch rivals Chester tonight.

Last season, the Griffins managed to eke out two wins in Region IV, their final year at the 3A level. It was good enough for a fourth place finish and a trip to the playoffs, where they were ousted in the first round by Clinton, 71-59. While the Griffins were led in that advance by NaJahwan McKinstry, the graduated senior leaves behind a slate of returners bringing back coveted experience to the program.

“Last year, NaJahwan willed us to win some of those tough games down the stretch,” head coach Devin Liferidge said. “He put us on his back and carried us. It was NaJahwan and four sophomores going into a first-round playoff game.”

Leading the way back for the Griffins is 6-foot-3 junior Keith Workman, fresh off his first taste of gridiron action as a wide receiver for Demetrius Davis’s Upper State champs.

“Keith has great athleticism,” Liferidge said. “He can shoot the ball extremely well. He has to be our guy, as far as creating things for others and getting the ball to the basket.”

Liferidge said the football experience has made the 185-pound Workman more physical on the floor, which the head coach hopes will play to the Griffins’ advantage.

Driving the bus for the Griffins this year will be junior Jalyn Davis, a 6-foot point guard who Liferidge calls “the smartest guy on the floor.” It will be up to Davis, he said, to see the floor and put the ball into the right hands.

Kewaun Squirewell, also coming off a hugely successful stint at wide receiver, will be another key to the Griffin offense.

“Squirewell gets to the basket really well and finishes in transition,” Liferidge said.

A major factor to the Griffins’ game this year will be defense and rebounds, Liferidge said, and leading the way in the backcourt will be juniors DeAndre Belton and Daniel Maple.

“Belton is our best defender,” Liferidge said. “He can shut down anybody, one-on-one, in the state. Maple is our smartest off-the-ball defender. He does a great job of communicating and pulling down rebounds.

“Defense will be key for us, especially early on as we try to establish a flow,” Liferidge added. “If we can rebound and defend, we’re going to have a chance to win and a chance to finish in the upper half of the region and get back to the playoffs.”

While the experience against the big 3A schools, many of which have risen to the Class 4A level, should serve the Griffins well in 2A, Fairfield Central will have to compete with traditional basketball batteries like Keenan and Eau Claire in Region III.

“Our region is unique,” Liferidge said. “Keenan has one of the best guards in the state, and Eau Claire is traditionally very good. Then you have schools in the region that are not as strong in basketball. But the experience we had last year, taking those bumps and bruises, that will help us.”

Liferidge also expects help from his bench, starting with junior Compton Walker, recovering from a ding in the football state title game. Liferidge also hopes to see Chanti Jones, Shadarius Hopkins and Victor Alston contribute from the bench.

“Jones (at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds) is a big, physical presence,” Liferidge said. “He really gets after it. Hopkins is a shooter, and Alston (6-foot-6, 195 pounds) can really help.”

The Griffins will spend the run-up to the holidays at the Seneca High School tournament, Dec. 20-21, and will host, along with the Lady Griffins, the Golden Griffin Invitational, Dec. 26-29 at Fairfield Central High School.

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