The Fairfield Lady Lions and coaches celebrate their Div. IV Southeast District Sectional Championship at Northwest High School. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
The Fairfield Lady Lions and coaches celebrate their Div. IV Southeast District Sectional Championship at Northwest High School. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
MCDERMOTT — For the second straight season, the Fairfield Lady Lions are moving on to the district round of the SE District tournament, overcoming some illness and fending off a Clay Lady Panthers team by seven points, 59-52 at Northwest High School, Thursday night.

Fairfield won by fending off seven tied scores, a deficit after the first quarter and some of their players were battling illnesses. Even with all the adversity, the No. 4 Lady Lions were able to defeat the No. 5 seeded Lady Panthers by building a 20-17 advantage in the final eight minutes.

“Winning the sectional was one of our goals at the beginning of the season. We got here last year and we wanted to repeat, and luckily we were able to do that,” FHS head coach Chad Hamilton said. “We had five to seven girls who have been sick. Grace missed two days of practice with strep throat and a fever, and she wasn’t at her best because of that, but she got stronger as the game went on.

“She came through with some big shots in the second half, and as a team, we were not 100-percent. We knew going in with Grace not being 100-percent and Alexis Tate missing some practices because of being sick, our game plan was getting the ball in the post, and we had some success doing that.”

As for the first half, the opening frame saw the Lady Lions (13-10) trail by a 12-10 score after eight minutes. Their scoring began when Shope tied the score at 2-2 with a jumper at the 5:35 mark, followed by taking the lead with a basket from Blake Adams at the 4:25 mark for the 4-2 advantage.

Shope led the Lady Lions with 15 points, while teammates Brianna Barnes and Blake Adams were right with their teammate with 10 points each, giving the Lady Lions three players in double figures for the game.

Still in the first frame, Clay answered these early points by the Lady Lions with a 7-0 run, but Fairfield had an answer of their own with points by Trinity Huff off a layup, two free throws from Barnes and the first-quarter scoring ended with a three-point play by Barnes with a jumper and converted free throw for the two-point differential in favor of Clay.

“Brianna Barnes stepped up for us, and Carly Arnold did too. She made some big shots and free throws. It was a very good team effort, and I’m very proud of the girls,” Hamilton said.

The second frame was tied on four occasions at 12, 14, 17 and 25 points as FHS tied the score at 12 with 7:13 on the second-quarter clock when Abigail Newkirk converted a layup, then FHS took the lead with fast break points by Shope at the 6:46 mark. Newkirk finished with four points in the win.

After the score was tied at 14, Shope broke the tie with a free throw, but following a 3-pointer and Clay taking the top spot, the Lady Lions answered with a jumper by Huff for the 17-17 score. Clay eventually built a 22-17 advantage, but FHS answered with a turnaround jumper by Barnes, then at the 2:10 mark, Carly Arnold sank a jumper, scoring two of her nine total points on the basket.

Arnold’s basket was equaled with a bucket by Adams, then Arnold followed with two more points for a 25-25 score with 1:17 left in the second frame. After Clay took the lead on two free throws, Arnold sank a 3-pointer with 47 seconds left in the quarter to put FHS back ahead, 28-26. Clay cut the lead to within a point, but a 3-pointer by Lauren Arnold at the buzzer for FHS moved them ahead by four point for a 31-27 halftime lead.

In the third frame, each team scored eight points, leaving FHS ahead, 39-35 with Fairfield’s points from Shope, Newkirk, Adams and Barnes.

In the fourth, Fairfield lost the lead momentarily around the six-minute mark at 42-41, then moved ahead by three points after free throws from Huff and a layup by Shope for a 45-42 advantage with 5:00 on the clock. Huff finished the game with eight points.

Later, a put-back basket by Barnes and two more free throws by Huff at the 4:09 mark left the Lady Lions ahead 49-44. From the 2:34 mark until the final buzzer, FHS kept the lead with points from Shope, Adams and Arnold for what was the seven-point victory.

For the game, FHS was 15-of-23 from the free-throw line, with a total of two 3-pointers and 19 two-point baskets.

Jensen Warnock led Clay with 20 points, finishing the game with six two-point baskets and going 8-of-11 from the free-throw line.

FHS will play in the Division IV SE District Semifinals on Saturday, Feb. 25, facing No. 1 seeded Waterford with a noon start at Jackson High School.