Fairfield's Wyatt Willey totaled six points for the Lions against Glenwood in their sectional final game, Wednesday at Northwest High School. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
Fairfield's Wyatt Willey totaled six points for the Lions against Glenwood in their sectional final game, Wednesday at Northwest High School. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
MCDERMOTT — For one half, the Fairfield Lions went toe-to-toe with the Glenwood New Boston Tigers in the Division IV SE District Sectional Finals, even having an 11-point lead in the early stages of the third quarter. But when New Boston switched to man-to-man on the defensive side of the ball, the game completely changed for the Lions.

Fairfield ended the game as a No. 6 seed in the tournament, and while the Tigers were a No. 3 seed, the Lions played them tough for first half and into the third frame. After the Lions got in front by the aforementioned 11 points with 7:07 left in the third frame the game began to change for the Lions, as Glenwood gradually chipped away at the lead in the third, taking over the lead with for good with 1:46 left in the quarter and eventually defeating Fairfield, 80-66, as this is the first sectional championship for the Tigers since 2000.

The first quarter for the Lions — who end the season at 12-12 overall — saw the score tied five times at two, four, eight, 10 and 15 points, with the Lions being the ones who tied the score on all five occasions with points from Sam Buddelmeyer on three occasions, plus baskets from Cody Gragg and Tucker Ayres.

Gragg led the Lions with 19 points, followed by Buddelmeyer with 11 points and Ayres finished with 10.

“For the game itself, we came out and executed the game plan, but the second half when they (GHS) switched over to the man-to-man, we took ourselves out of the game by not running our sets exactly the way we wanted to, and we missed several layups,” FHS head coach Josh Howland said. “Offensively for them, (Kyle McQuithy) hit a couple big threes, and that rattled us. Then we started panicking on defense and gave up too many layups in the third quarter, and that’s where we let it slip away.”

Fairfield lost the lead early in the second quarter to the Tigers (16-7), breaking the 15-15 score with a basket 29 seconds into the frame. They eventually built a 19-15 lead, only to see the Lions come back and tie the score at 19 off a layup by Gragg and later tie the score at 22 off a 3-pointer by Bryson Simmons with 4:31 left in the second.

Simmons wasn’t finished as he sent the Lions into the lead with another 3-pointer 28 seconds later for a 25-22 lead. Simmons finished the game with 11 points. The lead was short-lived, as Glenwood’s Kade Conley tied the score at 25-25 with a 3-pointer with 3:45 left in the second.

Fairfield answered with eight straight points, starting with two free throws by Gragg, as he then followed that with two points while driving to the hoop. Next were four straight points by Ayres, resulting in a 31-25 lead for the Lions with 2:17 left in the second.

Glenwood came back with five straight points, only to see Fairfield sink a 3-pointer off a shot by Gragg with 30 seconds left in the first half to take a six-point advantage. The lead eventually fell to four points, but with time expired, the Lions had three free-throw opportunities by Simmons, and he made all three chances to lead Fairfield in front by seven points at the half, 39-32.

The Lions opened the third strong with four straight points coming from a free-throw make by James Bentley and a 3-pointer by Wyatt Willey to jump ahead by 11 points at 43-32 with 7:07 left on the third quarter clock. Willey finished the game with six points, and Bentley also totaled six points.

The Lions gave up a 3-pointer by the Tigers but answered with a two-point layup from Gragg to get their lead back to 10 points with 6:30 left in the third.

But then the game took a turn in the favor of the Tigers, as they used a man-to-man defense to create opportunities, and the Lions began to have their troubles on the offensive side of the ball.

“When they went to man, we struggled,” Howland said. “We prepared too hard for other things and not hard enough for man. Either way, we’ve played against man for 22 games, and we should have been prepared. It was just as much letting ourselves get out of the game offensively.”

That change in the game resulted in the Tigers eventually taking the lead with a layup from Conley at the 2:32 mark, erasing the Fairfield 11-point lead in a span of around five minutes of play. Fairfield regained the lead with a basket by Buddelmeyer at the 2:28 mark of the third, only to see Glenwood score the next six points to end the quarter and take a five-point lead at 53-48, outscoring the Lions 21-9 in the third frame.

The Lions never got close in the fourth frame, being outscored 27-18 in those final eight minutes. Fairfield had points in the fourth by Gragg, Austin Setty (a 3-pointer), Willey, Ayres and Bentley.

For the game, the Lions were 17-of-27 from the free-throw line and totaled five 3-pointers (Simmons 2, Gragg 1, Setty 1, Willey 1).

“We have underclassmen who were in our top six coming back, a lot of times in our top five depending on who was out,” Howland said.

Glenwood was led in scoring by Tyler Caldwell with 22 points, followed by Kyle Sexton with 19, Conley with 18 and the fourth player in double figures was McQuithy with 11 points.

Seniors for the Lions are: Tucker Ayres, Quinton Beatty and Cody Gragg.

“Our seniors Tucker, Cody and Quinton will be missed,” Howland said. “Quinton you didn’t see much out on the floor, but he’s a team leader in practice and on the bench. If anybody ever stepped into one of our practices, you would see how he held everyone in check. Cody was our floor general, and he controlled everything offensively and defensively for us. Tucker worked so hard and improved so much and made an impact this year. Their level of commitment is the best I’ve seen on any team I’ve been around.

“I also want to thank our fans. They’ve been so supportive this year, all season long. We get such great support from our community. We have a great community, and that makes it a lot more fun to coach.”