Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Highlights from Grovetown vs North Augusta, a preseason scrimmage game with post season type effort, competitiveness and skill level

Colin Rodrigues (North Augusta) sprints back to contest Zach Bell (Grovetown) at the rim.

Grovetown 78, North Augusta 74 (Preseason Scrimmage Game)

Four teams I expect to be among the area's best this season finished their preseason Tuesday when North Augusta's boys and girls teams visited Grovetown for a pair of scrimmage games that would that easily could have been mistaken either for region rivalry or even post season matchups had we spectators not known better.

A few sequences during the third quarter of the boys game vividly illustrated the competitiveness of the players and the the high level of talent on the floor. For example, after a North Augusta turnover, Grovetown's Darius Dunn, who recovered the ball at the free throw line on his defensive side, quickly spotted teammate Zach Bell leaking out at half court with no Yellow Jacket defender in sight. The instant the ball left Dunn's hands, North Augusta's Colin Rodrigues, who was standing near the corner, even with Dunn and a good 25 feet from Bell, broke into a sprint and made up enough ground to plant his feet on the volleyball line at the same time as Bell, who himself had planted to rise up for a dunk.

Unlike the other three times Bell blew the roof off of the gym with thunderous slam dunks in the third quarter, he was unable to finish this particular attempt. But the buzz in the gym from after he tried, and as importantly, after Rodrigues's extra effort to make sure to contest and ultimately get called for a foul, made it obvious that we were watching two high level teams that wanted to do everything in their power to win the bragging rights that were at stake Tuesday, whether it was a regular season game or not.

Grovetown topped North Augusta 78-74 in the boys game. The Warriors were led by Bell, who scored 19 points, senior Zy Wright, who also tallied 19, and junior Julius Brown, who logged 15 points (4 three pointers) and 9 assists.

Rodrigues (15 points), a junior, led the way for North Augusta. Senior Kaleb Cooper added 12.

North Augusta 59, Grovetown 52 (Girls)

In the first game, North Augusta's Lady Yellow Jackets, the three time South Carolina class 4A defending state champions, topped a promising Grovetown squad 59-52 behind 19 points by 6-2 freshman P'eris Smith and 17 by junior Kiana Lee.

Sophomore Keona Curtis led Grovetown with 15 points, and fellow sophomore D'mya Griffin added 12.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Augusta Splits Season Opening Games in the 45 Second Classic - Game stories, highlights and interviews with head coach Dip Metress

Freshman Lee Flenor got the "chest bump of the game," which Augusta head coach Dip Metress gives to one player after every road win, after Flenor injected some needed scrappiness into Saturday's second half against Barton, sparking a 25-8 run that stretched 8 minutes and propelled the Jaguars to an 88-85 win in its second of two 45 Second Classic season opening games at Barton College in Wilson, North Carolina last weekend.

During Augusta's pivotal second half run, Flenor scored 8 of his 12 total points and grabbed 6 of his game high 7 rebounds, including 3 on the offensive end that led to scores. Flenor capped the spurt by putting back his own miss while being fouled to give Augusta a 68-56 lead with 9:44 remaining.

Rafael Monteiro (18 points), Miguel Arnold (18) and Tyree Myers led Augusta in scoring. Monteiro, a preseason first team all Peach Belt Conference selection, made 6 of his 10 field goal attempts and all 5 of his free throws, capping an impressive first weekend for the senior, who scored 24 points and logged 11 rebounds and 4 assists in Friday's 88-82 loss to Mount Olive.

Sophomore point guard Tyree Myers also turned in his second solid performance of the weekend Saturday, dishing 8 assists to go along with his 17 points after a 10 point, 9 assist outing Friday. Myers scored 10 points during the final 7 minutes, halting an 8-0 run by Barton after Augusta's lead was cut to 4 with a shot clock beating finish high off the glass over the outstretched arms of a Barton defender that put Augusta ahead 72-66 with 6:17 remaining. Myers scored 10 of Augusta's final 18 points and made all 4 of his free throw attempts in the final 30 seconds while the Jaguars nursed a two possession lead.

Myers and fellow sophomore Miguel Arnold helped keep Augusta within striking distance throughout the first half. Arnold scored 11 points on 4-7 field goal shooting (3-6 from deep) during the first 20 minutes. And it was during that time when Myers tallied 7 of his game high 8 assists.

Augusta also benefited from timely shot making by junior Troy Cracknell, whose three pointer from the right wing with 16:40 remaining tied the game at 44. Cracknell later nailed a pull up jumper on the left wing that put the Jaguars ahead 54-52 with 13:25 left.

Troy Cracknell - Augusta

Cracknell scored 9 points on 3-6 shooting after netting 16 in Friday's game. Factoring in the contributions from sophomores Darren Lucas-White and Tyshaun Crawford reveals that seven different players scored at least 9 points in one or both of the weekend's games.

Saturday's performance an improvement over Friday's

Coach Metress told us in an interview before Friday's opener that "nobody's any good this time of year," adding that "you don't really play your best basketball at this time of the year... at least hopefully not... you want to play your best basketball late in the year."

Despite that realization, Metress was noticeably frustrated after Friday's 88-82 loss to Mount Olive, and he was particularly displeased with his team's 19 turnovers. Despite shooting 47% from the field and out-rebounding Mount Olive 46-35, the Jaguars were unable to overcome their sloppiness with the ball and hold on to the 1 point lead they earned with 4:27 remaining after battling back from down as many as 8 points in the second half.

But the transition from Friday's turnover plagued opener to Saturday's crisp outing (Augusta committed only 8 turnovers while shooting 53% from the field and 82% from the free throw line) had to qualify as a kind of sign that this season's team is capable of making the progress that will need to be made for it to be able to approach the type of success that last year's championship squad was able to attain. Here's Dip Metress's conclusion after Saturday's win and the weekend's split:

"It was a great win. Any time you win on the road, you should be happy. And it gives us something to build on. We're still looking for identity. We really are."

Augusta will travel to Claflin for another non conference game Wednesday before next Tuesday's (November 19) home opener against Catawba.

More about Augusta University

2019-20 Season Preview with Dip Metress (November 8)

2018-19 "Exit Interview"

Friday, November 8, 2019

#13 Augusta Season Opener Preview

#13 Augusta tips off its 2019-20 season Friday and Saturday in Wilson, NC. The @AugBball social media feeds will provide full coverage throughout the weekend. The attached video is our preview for the seaaon opener, which follows this outline:

Meet key returning players and one high impact newcomer (0:00-3:45)

Interview with head coach Dip Metress (3:45-10:30)

Players mentioned.

Rafael Monteiro
- 15 ppg, 6 rpg
- 59% FG, 42% 3 pt FG, 72% FT
- 2nd Team All Peach Belt Conference 2018-19
- 1st Team Preseason All Peach Belt Conference 2019-20

Miguel Arnold
- 12 ppg
- 47% FG, 46% 3 pt FG, 85% FT
- Peach Belt Conference Co-Rookie of the Year

Tyree Myers
- 10 ppg, 5 apg
- 48% FG, 44 3 pt FG%, 79% FT

Darren Lucas-White
- 5 ppg, 2 rpg, 2 apg in 19 mpg
- 39% FG, 26 3 pt FG%, 74% FT

Troy Cracknell
- 7 ppg, 2 rpg in 16 mpg
- 48% FG, 48 3 pt FG%, 87% FT

Tyshaun Crawford
7-0, 290 lb Sophomore

Robert Barlund
6-8 Sophomore

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

USC Aiken and area junior college standouts get an early start on the college hoops season

Tim Williamson (left), Faison Brock (top right), Drez McBride (bottom right)

USC Aiken dropped a pair of games last weekend in the SBC Hall of Fame Classic in St. Joseph, Missouri. The four team tip off classic was the first sign of official NCAA basketball for the 2019-20 season as many Division I teams get set to start there schedules tonight, and the rest of the Division II will tip off this Friday. NJCAA (junior college) play also began last Friday, when, as was the case with USC Aiken's opening games, lots of action with a local flavor took place in the two year college space.

Aiken began its difficult early season schedule with a pair of losses

Xzavier Barmore (USC Aiken) is a preseason first team All PBC player.

The Pacers - who finished last season as the Peach Belt Conference regular season and tournament runners up, advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, amassed a 27-6 record and spent most of the season ranked in the top 10 - entered this year as the #17 ranked team in the preseason poll. Its opponents last Friday and Saturday in Missouri are also highly regarded as Davenport, Friday's opponent, was ranked #13, and West Texas A&M, Saturday's foe, was listed as the #5 team in the same poll. 

In Friday's 77-68 loss to Davenport, the Pacers played without Faison Brock, one of two returning seniors who were highly productive members of last season's squad. And Xzavier Barmore, the team's other key returning veteran, only made 2 of his 17 field goal attempts in the loss.

Faison Brock (USC Aiken) scored 22 points in Saturday's loss.

Saturday's outing started much better for the Pacers because Brock made his first appearance less than 5 minutes after tip off and proceeded to lead the team in scoring with 22 points. And despite another slow start by Barmore (3 first half points), Aiken led most of the first half before falling behind 38-35 at the break. But a better second half (12 points on 6-11 shooting) by Barmore was not enough to stop West Texas A&M, which was paced by Joel Murray's game high 27 points, from maintaining a double digit lead for most of the second half.

More stiff competition ahead of Aiken

Things won't get easier for USC Aiken because this weekend the Pacers will play Friday against Tusculum and Saturday against Lincoln Memorial, which entered the season ranked #9 in the poll and #6 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) rankings. Lincoln Memorial, a perennial South Athletic Conference (SAC) power, will host the two day tournament. And when the Pacers finally return to the area for their first game of the season at the USC Aiken Convocation Center on November 16, their opponent, #23 Florida Southern, will be another team that entered the season ranked in the top 25 in the preseason poll.

Local talent makes a mark during the first weekend of junior college action

USC Salkehatchie, home to four highly accomplished area players, won a pair of games last weekend after entering the season ranked #18 in the NJCAA preseason poll. The Indians topped Georgia Highlands 102-98 Friday in overtime before knocking off South Georgia Tech Saturday 76-68. The games were part of the Cape Fear Classic at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Drez McBride (January, 2017)

In the two games combined, sophomore Drez McBride, who transferred from McCook Community College in Nebraska after starring for Butler High School, scored 33 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished 8 assists. McBride has blossomed into a Division I player since graduating from high school in 2018, and the athletic lefty with a smooth stroke and crafty ball handling skills has received scholarship offers from UNC Asheville, Albany, Hampton and, most recently, Illinois State.

Kevin Williamson (January, 2017)

Another sophomore with local ties, Kevin Williamson, a former Aiken High (class of 2018) star who recently committed to Coastal Carolina, scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the two games combined. And former Lincoln County standout Ahmad Rand, a sophomore who received offers from Tulsa and Grambling after leading the nation in blocked shots last season, logged a total of 13 rebounds and swatted away 7 shots in the two games combined.

Tim Williamson named player of the week after scoring 37 in a win

Tim Williamson (Andrew College)

Former Glenn Hills (and Hephzibah before that) standout Tim Williamson, now a sophomore at Andrew College, scored 37 points in his team's season opening 88-85 victory over New Rock Prep Saturday. For that Williamson was named the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Week.

Freshmen Kalen Williams and Trez Ruffin contribute early for their new teams

Kalen Williams (December, 2018)

Kalen Williams (Lakeside '19) and Trez Ruffin (Josey '19), two former area standouts who will be expected to make an impact in their first season on the junior college scene, did just that in their teams' opening games. Williams scored 11 points in 28 minutes during Western Nebraska's 100-86 win over Central Wyoming Saturday after logging 8 points in 24 minutes in Friday's 96-75 loss to Western Wyoming.

Trez Ruffin (February, 2019)

Ruffin scored 12 points in Iowa Western's 89-70 win over Northwest Kansas Tech. Iowa Western dropped its game against Colby Saturday 93-73.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Interview with Grovetown Basketball Head Coach Darren Douglas

I asked Grovetown basketball head coach Darren Douglas to help answer the following question from a local high school hooper:

I was wondering if you knew any workshops or events I could attend to find out more information about getting recruitment and offers? Or do you know any information or resources or experiences that you can share about recruitment?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Riding a four game winning streak under first year head coach Lafayette Stewart, Fox Creek's players and coaches are making the most of their Fridays... and Saturdays too

Left to right: Nick Williams, Blake Shealy, Ryan Chavous, CJ Tillman and Jadon Johnson (Fox Creek)

After dropping a pair of games to begin the season, Fox Creek has run off four consecutive victories, and last Friday night the Predators earned their first region win since joining in 2018 South Carolina's class 2A, region 2, which first year coach Lafayette Stewart calls "the SEC West" of the Palmetto State.

Fox Creek knocked off Ninety Six 17-7 on the road Friday to improve to 4-2 overall and 1-0 in region play ahead of this Friday's road game against defending state champion Abbeville. Sophomore quarterback Jadon Johnson threw two touchdown passes to senior Jatonious Butler in the victory, and running back Ryan Chavous continued to pile up rushing statistics with 179 yards on 27 carries.

Jatonious Butler (Fox Creek)

In a recent conversation, coach Stewart praised his offensive coordinator, Cam Epting, and his defensive coordinator, Brett Johnson, for steering their units in the right direction during the current winning streak. Chavous's eye popping rushing numbers (11 touchdowns and just under 800 yards in the last 5 games) can be traced back to a move Epting made in the second half of Fox Creek's 21-14 overtime win over McCormick in week 3.

"Early in the season we had a couple fourth-and-inches or third-and-shorts we didn't get, so we implemented a goal line package," Epting explained Monday before the team's practice. "That really propelled us. It led us to a couple victories. It's not a closed book. This thing's open. We're adding to it every week."

Johnson also made adjustments on the defensive side of the ball to help spur the current winning streak. After surrendering 777 total yards and 11 touchdowns in the first two losses combined, Fox Creek has given up only one touchdown and 313 total yards in the last two games combined.

"We had a rough first two games defensively," Johnson said Monday. "We knew we had the right players on the field. What it's come down to in the last four games is getting them in the right position."

Coach Stewart's focus on "the next level"

In addition to the recent success on Friday nights, coach Stewart has brought to Fox Creek a methodical approach to exposing his players to opportunities to play college football. A scroll through the Fox Creek Twitter feed (see above) will reveal a series of Saturday trips to some of the highest profile college football games in the nation.

A small subset of the players who have been making unofficial visits to college games described their trips to me Monday afternoon. Quarterback Jadon Johnson watched from the sidelines as Georgia took on Notre Dame, and Clemson hosted Texas A&M. Johnson has also been to games this fall at South Carolina and Georgia Tech.

"What stood out for me was the environment of just being there, and being around a huge crowd there." Johnson answered when I asked him what it was like to be on the sideline for Georgia's home game against Notre Dame, which set a Sanford Stadium attendance record. "And having everyone looking at you, and noticing you, and the feeling that you get being on a visit at a big time college."

Nick Williams, a 6-4 and 300 pound sophomore tackle, also attended the games at Georgia, Clemson and South Carolina. And seniors Blake Shealy, CJ Tillman and Ryan Chavous have been to games at UNC Charlotte, Mercer and Furman already.

Watching college games up close and talking to the coaches and recruiting coordinators during the visits are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But such trips are part of a much larger process that Coach Stewart describes in the interview above. As he explains, the process begins with awareness on the players' part, which is facilitated by communication between the coaches and families of the players. Then comes the necessary academic achievement of the players, the attending of recruiting camps during the off season, the performance on the field during the actual season and an ongoing shepherding from somebody like Stewart, who has distinguished himself early in his coaching career as somebody who takes a special interest in facilitating his players' goal of graduating with the necessary skills and academic requirements needed to attend and graduate from college, while at the same time playing football on Saturdays!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Spirit Creek knocks off previously unbeaten Glenn Hills to finish regular season 5-0 ahead of next week's semifinals

Spirit Creek's Javaris Harris takes a handoff in Tuesday's win over Glenn Hills.

In Tuesday's battle between unbeaten Richmond County middle school teams, Spirit Creek used a formidable rushing attack to build a lead, and protected it late by forcing Glenn Hills to commit two turnovers in the second half as the Dolphins earned a 14-6 win on the road to secure a 5-0 regular season record and the top seed in the county's four team playoff, which starts next Wednesday.

Javaris Harris rushed for 149 yards on 12 carries, and Antwain Hendrieth logged another 42 yards on 5 carries, including a 14 yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Telly Johnson added an 11 yard touchdown run on the second play of the fourth quarter after Harris closed out the third with runs of 35, 24, 11 and 11 yards during a 72 yard drive that ate up nearly all of the time in the period following a Glenn Hills fumble.

That turnover was one of three in the second half by Glenn Hills. The fumble was forced by Johnson and Harris, and recovered by Corey Cooper at Spirit Creek's 28 yard line on the second half's third play from scrimmage.

Left to right: Javaris Harris, Antwain Hendrieth and James McDougald (Spirit Creek)

After the game, Spirit Creek coach Michael Collins credited his offensive line for creating the space for the Dolphins to gain 172 rushing yards on their first four possessions. And he commended his running backs for holding onto the ball during that turnover free stretch in which Spirit Creek built a 14-0 lead.

"Tonight was what you saw. It was tremendous. Our offensive linemen. Everything started up front," Collins said as he patted right guard Brian Bailey on his back. "We did what we had to do. Our running backs held on to the ball. The coaches coached well. We played together. Stuck it out. And here we have an undefeated season."

Spirit Creek Guard Brian Bailey

After falling behind 14-0, Glenn Hills benefitted from forcing a fumble themselves when Judd Brown stripped Harris and sixth grader Jarvis Singfield, who recorded 4 tackles during the game, recovered the ball on the Seminoles' 28 yard line. Glenn Hills then took to the air as quarterback Danny Daggett completed a short pass to Lejuan Meyers, who ran 15 yards the Spirit Creek 42 yard line. Then J'Kelyn Carroll took a pitch from Daggett and quickly unloaded a long pass to Jonathan Brown, who caught it and was brought down at the 6 yard line. James Pride, a big, strong and agile Seminole running back who proved throughout the game to be difficult to bring down, rushed for a 6 yard touchdown two plays later to bring Glenn Hills to within one score at 14-6.

James Pride (Glenn Hills) scored on a 6 yard touchdown run in Tuesday's loss.

Glenn Hills would have two more chances to even the score. The Seminoles were first denied when Corey Cooper shot into the Glenn Hills backfield and disrupted a handoff near midfield, allowing Hendrieth to pick the ball up off the ground and run it back to the Glenn Hills 28. After turning the ball over on downs, Spirit Creek got its third takeaway of the half when Willie Taylor intercepted a pass by Daggett near midfield to seal the win with 1:11 remaining.

Evans Middle Claims Columbia County Title

Brenden Reynolds (Evans Middle) rushed for 192 yards and 5 touchdowns Tuesday.

Evans Middle thrashed Lakeside 38-0 to finish its season 7-0 and win the Columbia County middle school championship. Its 14-0 win over Grovetown (see game highlights here) ensured the Knights would be their division's representative in the championship game. Evans got a standout performance by running back Brenden Reynolds, who rushed for 192 yards and 5 touchdowns, in Tuesday's win.