‘They’re gym rats’: Stalwarts lift Fairfield into regional semifinals

Indians will face Wayne on Wednesday night at Xavier’s Cintas Center

D.J. Wyrick couldn’t help but agree with the observation that Saturday’s 55-52 Division I district final win over Walnut Hills was a gut check for his Indians.

“Big time,” Wyrick said.

Wyrick deployed just six players against the Eagles, and the only substitute – 6-foot-5 senior forward Owen Bronston – played only nine minutes. Two juniors, 6-7 center Aamir Rogers and 6-2 guard Ray Coney, each logged 30 minutes. Senior guards Logan Woods and Kollin Tolbert never came off the floor.

Wyrick didn’t have the luxury of the coaches in Saturday’s first three district finals, all of them bench-clearing, double-digit games at the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena. While the Indians showed signs of fatigue in the final minutes against Walnut Hills, they found a way to persevere and pull out the win, capturing their first district championship since 2012.

Wyrick knew he was taking a gamble.

“A couple of times toward the end, I looked down our bench at the other guys, but that would’ve been a tough situation to put them in toward the end of the game in crunch time when they’ve been sitting the whole time,” the coach said.

Knowing his players and how much time they spend in the gym on their own left him confident that they could handle the load.

“They’re gym rats,” he said. “Sometimes, we have to kick them out of the gym.”

Deshawne Crim, whose game-high 20 points included two free throws to tie the score and take the lead with 16 seconds left and two more with 5.6 seconds left to make it a three-point game, credited Fairfield’s coaches with the Indians’ conditioning.

“They put us in great position,” said Crim, who played “only” 27 minutes against Walnut Hills.

Whether Wyrick can – or will try to – get away with playing just six players in Fairfield’s next game remains to be seen. The Indians are scheduled to meet 18-7 Wayne on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the first of two regional semifinals at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. Defending state champion and 26-0 Centerville, the Associated Press Division I state poll champion, is scheduled to meet 22-3 and ninth-ranked Fairmont in the 8 p.m. semifinal.

Wayne advanced with a 53-36 win over Turpin – like Walnut Hills, an Eastern Cincinnati Conference team. Playing before a crowd that included Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing, whose Hoyas lost at Xavier the previous day, 6-3 junior guard Lawrent Rice scored a game-high 24 points for the Warriors, who were an ice-cold 2-of-15 on 3-point shots but a sizzling 18-of-25 inside the arc.

Wayne has won its four tournament games by 33, 11, 21 and 17 points.

The regional championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at Xavier.

Fairfield hasn’t gotten this far in the tournament since reaching a 2012 state semifinal.

Both of Wednesday’s games are rematches. Wyrick used 10 players and none of them played more than Tolbert’s 30 minutes on Dec. 23 while Fairfield was pulling out a 71-70 home win over the Warriors, who play in the Greater Western Ohio Conference. Woods scored 20 points, Tolbert 19 and Crim 17 in that game.

Fairfield led, 39-24, at halftime of that game and 53-43 going into the fourth quarter and held off a furious comeback by Wayne, which outscored the Indians, 27-18, in the last eight minutes. Rice scored 25 points and 6-foot junior guard R.J. Mukes 20 in that game.

Fairfield goes into Wednesday’s game with a school-record 22 wins, one more than the 2012 team. The Indians have won more games this season than they played last season.

“They’ve earned everything they’ve gotten thus far,” Wyrick said.

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