Boys basketball: Fairfield closing in on first GMC title since 2014

Fairfield's Ray Coney brings the ball up during a recent game. Chris Vogt/Butler County High School Sports Report
Fairfield's Ray Coney brings the ball up during a recent game. Chris Vogt/Butler County High School Sports Report

The Fairfield High School basketball team took a big step toward clinching the Greater Miami Conference title Tuesday with a win over Lakota East.

One more win in the final stretch of three games should do it.

Fairfield (11-4, 10-1 GMC) travels to Lakota West tonight, sitting atop the standings and looking to lock up the program’s first title since 2013-14. In a season where most teams have been impacted by cancellations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the GMC champion will be determined by winning percentage in conference play with a 12-game minimum.

East (10-4 GMC, .714) is the closest to Fairfield’s 90.9 percent winning percentage. The Indians wrap up the regular season with home games against Colerain and Hamilton on Saturday and Monday, respectively. The Thunderhawks are at Middletown today and host Sycamore on Saturday.

“We use that to motivate them,” Fairfield coach D.J. Wyrick said about being so close to clinching. “This is a tricky time of year for a coach because the tournament draw happens and then you still play games. These are meaningful games. If we want to win a league title, we have to win these games. You try to keep the guys focused on that next game.”

Beating East was significant because Wyrick – and most teams in the conference – still viewed the Thunderhawks as the team to beat, being the two-time defending champions. East has played in a number of big games over the past few years, and that hasn’t been the case for Fairfield, which went 7-16 last year and hasn’t had a winning record since 2014-15.

Fairfield has truly turned a corner, though. The Indians earned the No. 4 seed in the sectional draw Sunday and took a bye in the Cincinnati 2 bracket, awaiting the winner between No. 11 Lakota West and No. 22 Kings on Feb. 23.

Wyrick said he it was a “pretty big deal” to be voted fourth by his peer coaches in Southwest Ohio, giving Fairfield its best seed since being a No. 3 in 2013-14. However, there is still much work to be done before the Indians get to that point.

The Indians have been hit hard by COVID-19 quarantines this season, having to take a break from practices and games three times, including the most recent stretch that kept them off the court between Jan. 19 and Feb. 5. They expect to have their full squad together for the first time in more than a month Friday.

“It made us stronger as a team,” Wyrick said. “Because of that, our guys understand how fragile this season is. When we’ve had the opportunity to practice, when we have the opportunity to play I feel like our guys take advantage of that. They understand at any time we could be off for two weeks. From a positive standpoint, there’s that. We’re excited to be here because we know in the back of our minds it could be taken from us, so it’s easier to get them to practice hard and compete because of that.”

The team is stronger also because of the depth built while certain players were held out because of individual quarantines, allowing others to step up and get more playing time.

Wyrick likes how well the team is playing together, sharing the ball and embracing roles.

“Everyone wants to win, and they want to do something special as a team,” he said.

Staying healthy is the key now. Fairfield will have played six games in 10 days after Monday’s game against Hamilton, which made the bye in the tournament that much more important.

The Indians haven’t had time to focus on self-improvement down the stretch because during the times they do get to practice between games, the emphasis is on preparing for the opponent. The week between the regular-season finale and Fairfield’s first tournament game will be spent more on fine-tuning and correcting any issues that need addressed before a hopeful postseason run.

Wyrick said his team still has something to prove over this final stretch of three games, especially since Fairfield won’t have the full 16 games played in the conference. Two more games like wouldn’t change the Indians’ fate anyway, but the Indians want to prove they are truly deserving of a title.

“I think that adds to these next three games,” Wyrick said. “We made it a point to play everyone at least once. I would have felt differently if a team could say, ‘They may have won the league but they didn’t play us.’ We will have played all teams once and most twice, and I don’t think anyone would have issue with us but we want to go out and do our best to win these games and hopefully carry that into the tournament.”

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