Big season for Cougars
Published 12:37 pm Saturday, February 24, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
He felt the season was at a crossroads.
It was at about the midpoint of the 2017-2018 season when Lafayette Christian School boys’ coach Jarred Pike got the players together for a meeting.
“We challenged our guys about midway through the year, the leaders on the team, and basically everybody, to keep each other accountable, and to work hard for one another on the court,” Pike said. “We sat them down, and we talked to them, and we said you have to do your job. Don’t try to do his job. If you’re a post player, stay in the post. Don’t go out and shoot threes. If you’re not good at driving, don’t drive.”
After that, Pike said “we kind of started playing better. Even though we had some losses, we didn’t have any huge losses where I felt where we just laid down.”
The Cougars went on to finish third in their region tournament to qualify for the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association state tournament.
The fun was just getting started.
Lafayette Christian delivered an inspired performance in the state tournament, winning three games to reach the championship game before falling to a powerful Arlington Christian team.
Along the way, Lafayette Christian got a memorable home win over Central Christian in the state semifinals. That win was noteworthy since Lafayette Christian had lost to Central Christian the previous three times they’d met during the season.
Lafayette Christian also got road wins over Trinity Prep School and Cherokee Christian in the first two rounds of the state tournament.
Then in the semifinals, playing before a frenzied and inspired home crowd, Lafayette Christian beat Central Christian 70-60.
Lafayette Christian’s magical run ended when it fell to Arlington, which won a second consecutive state championship.
Nonetheless, Pike was pleased to see the effort the players put in pay dividends.
“It’s real good for these guys to know that if you put in the work, and you do what you’re supposed to do, then good things will happen,” Pike said.
After finishing third in the region, Lafayette Christian was in Loganville for a first-round matchup at state, and it overwhelmed Trinity Prep School 71-38.
Lafayette Chrisitan went back on the road for round two to face Cherokee Christian School, which won its region championship.
It was a tight game, with Lafayette Christian hanging on for a 63-59 victory.
The Cougars were down by 15 points in the first quarter, but they rallied to get within five at the half, and they took the lead with less than two minutes remaining.
Pike said the team’s leading scorers, Ross Clifton and Cameron Geisler, led the way.
“During that game, Ross and Cameron were our two guys,” Pike said. “They hit some big shots. They pretty much led us to the state-championship game.”
That win set up a rematch with Central Christian with a berth in the state-championship round, and the game was played on Lafayette Christian’s home floor.
“The greatest thing we had was we played at our place,” Pike said. “We had fans here, and it was like a mob. We had the bleachers full of students, and (football coach) Nate Shaw was up there in a kilt, with a fake foam sword. The students were chanting. It gave us some magic powers or something, because we were hitting everything.”
Pike felt it was going to be loud, but it surpassed even his expectations.
“I told them before I’d have hand signals for our calls,” Pike said. “It was so loud, that I was screaming and they couldn’t even hear me. They’d shoot free throws, and I was just yelling at them, trying to tell them what to do. They weren’t turning around, because they couldn’t even hear me it was so loud.”
Pike has no doubt the home-court edge made a difference.
“Our guys, we fed off that crowd, we felt the emotion, and we had people diving out of bounds, diving into the bleachers, knocking into the scorer’s table,” Pike said. “We just out-worked them.”
As far as Xs and Os, Pike said the team tried to do some different things the fourth time around.
“We tried to change it up,” Pike said. “We changed up some things on defense, and did things a little different, just show a little different look. We were able to control the pace.”
The Cougars grabbed the early lead, and they never looked back.
“We took the lead after the first quarter by about 10, and we kept it for the whole game,” Pike said.
“They’d hit a big shot, and we’d come down and match it. We’d keep that lead.”
Against Arlington, Lafayette Christian was down by three at the half, but it ended up losing 56-33.
“The guys had a little fight, a little spirit,” Pike said. “We came out in the third, and we just ran out of gas. We didn’t really have anybody that could score or get open. We played great defensively, we just couldn’t score.”
It was the final game for the team’s three seniors, OJ Parks, Ross Clifton and Ben Griffies.
While Clifton and Parks were starters the past few seasons, Griffies played sparingly, although Pike said he still made a significant contribution.
“He didn’t play very much, but he helped out the younger guys and was vocal and always positive,” Pike said.
Clifton was the Cougars’ leading scorer during the 2016-2017 season, and he was second in that category to sophomore Cameron Geisler this season.
“Ross, offensively he didn’t have as good a year as last year, but he finished with 280 points, and he led the team in steals and assists,” Pike said.
As for Parks, Pike said he made enormous strides between his junior and senior seasons.
“He really improved from last year,” Pike said. “I was proud of him for the way we played.”
While the seniors will be missed, the future is bright with some talented players returning, including Geisler, who has been outstanding the past two seasons.
It’s a program that has won one state title and played for another in the past four years, and Pike expects the team to continue to flourish next season.
“We’re trying to build a culture of winning, where if you play here, you’re expected to win,” Pike said.
“I want to have a program where you’re expected to win, and I think that’s where we’re getting with the players we have coming up, and all of the work we’ve put in for the past couple of years.”
TEAM MEMBERS: Matt Brooks, Sam Shepherd, OJ Parks, Cameron Geisler, Ross Clifton, Pierce Butler, Landon Whitley, AJ Parks, Ethan Worley, Keyshawn Russell, Ben Griffies