Lynchburg-Clay senior Eric McLaughlin shoots the ball while under heavy defensive pressure by members of the Fairfield Lions. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha
Lynchburg-Clay senior Eric McLaughlin shoots the ball while under heavy defensive pressure by members of the Fairfield Lions. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha
LEESBURG — For the second time this season, the Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs defeated the Fairfield Lions, though on Tuesday night it was a little tougher to do so than their first meeting, plus this one was for bragging rights as it was their non-conference meeting of the season.

The Mustangs never trailed in the entire 32-minute Highland County rivalry game on Fairfield’s Parents Night, but in the end it was the visiting Mustangs who were able to fend off a late scoring surge in the final minutes by the Lions for a 63-60 win.



Lynchburg-Clay (6-5, 10-7) did what they needed to do to seal the win as they scored five of the game’s final eight points in a sequence of less than 40 seconds to gain the win. They went from leading by a 58-57 score with 47.3 on the clock, to seeing Damin Pierson sink two big-time free throws, followed by a layup by Austin Hilt with 22 seconds left in regulation for a 62-57 lead in a span of around 20 seconds.

Following a timeout by the Mustangs, the Lions did make the ending interesting with a 3-pointer by Cody Gragg — from the corner — with 10.2 on the clock to make it a 62-60 deficit, but the Mustangs were fouled. Eric McLaughlin sealed the win with a free throw with 8.9 left on the clock as the Lions were unable to score any more points in the remaining game time.

“We didn’t think it was going to be any different than this. They (FHS) have gone on a spell and lost some games, and I’ve seen their scores and they’ve kept fighting and fighting. Tonight, credit (Fairfield), they played hard, and this was like a tournament atmosphere,” LC head coach Matt Carson said. “(Fairfield) is going to be a dangerous team when the tournament rolls around. They played poised, and hats off to Coach Howland and his coaching staff. They made some adjustments at the end defensively and caused us some fits.

“This was a well-played basketball game, and everyone got their money’s worth tonight.”

The Mustangs were led by McLaughlin with a game-high 23 points, as he also had a double-double with 11 rebounds. Pierson followed with nine points and seven assists.

For the Mustangs in the opening frame, they opened with four straight points, including a layup by Hilt and a jumper by Noble Walker. Fairfield answered the score as Sam Buddelmeyer and James Bentley each had points in the paint with 5:31 still remaining in the quarter.

As the first frame continued, the Lions (4-9, 10-10) also had scoring by Wyatt Willey and Tucker Ayres, while the Mustangs saw points added to the scoreboard by Pierson to eventually see LC in front 17-12 at the conclusion of the first eight minutes of action. Ayres finished the game with 18 points.

The Mustangs won the second frame as well, outscoring the Lions, 14-12, leaving the score at halftime at 31-24. The Mustangs had six points in the second from McLaughlin, giving him 13 points at the half. Also for LC in the second, Walker, Pierson, Chris Young and Quintin Smith (who sank a 3-pointer with 5:29 on the clock) all scored points.

In the second, Fairfield had a 3-pointer by Bryson Simmons at the 5:09 mark, along with a seven-point quarter by Ayres and two points from Bentley.

After a seven-point deficit at halftime, the Lions cut the score down to a four-point game once the third quarter came to a close, outscoring the Mustangs, 18-15.

“We showed some resiliency, and we finally have everybody healthy again,” FHS head coach Josh Howland said. “It is easier to show resiliency when you have everybody healthy and playing with confidence.

“Kudos to Eric McLaughlin (of LCHS) because he played with resiliency tonight. He’s a take-charge kind of player. They didn’t give up either, and they could have folded just as easily as we could have (when FHS got to within a point of the lead), but everyone fought.”

The third frame included two 3-pointers by the Lions with Willey and Gragg connecting from beyond the arc, with Buddelmeyer, Simmons and Ayres also contributing to the 18-point third. Gragg totaled 13 points for the Lions, while Buddelmeyer finished with eight points and Willey collected nine points in the loss.

LCHS also had four players score points in the third frame as Walker, Pierson, Young and McLaughlin all continued to keep LC in front by a 46-42 score.

Young had the top performance in the third for LC by making a 3-pointer, plus two other two-point baskets.

In the fourth, the Mustangs struck first with a layup by McLaughlin, but the Lions answered with a layup by Buddelmeyer, a free throw from Ayres and another two points by Buddelmeyer, making it a one-point game at 48-47 with the Mustangs still in the lead.

McLaughlin put the Mustangs back in front by three points with a layup at the 4:44 mark, but Simmons chipped away at the LC advantage with a free-throw conversion.

As the quarter continued, the Mustangs had a free throw from Raymond Conner, but the Lions were there with a layup by Willey for a 54-50 deficit.

The game continued to stay close, but a 3-pointer from Gragg brought the Lions to a 58-55 deficit with 1:05 on the clock, followed by a two-point basket in the paint with 47.3 on the clock to make it a one-point game at 58-57.

“The boys fought and strived to the end, and we capitalized on turnovers at the end, but not enough at the beginning, and that was a difference,” Howland said.

LC was fouled and took advantage of the free-throw chances with Pierson making two, and later Hilt scoring two points on a layup for the 62-57 advantage with 22 seconds left in the game. From there, the game was completed with the aforementioned 3-pointer by Gragg for the Lions and a late free throw in the final seconds by McLaughlin.

“We are having fun again,” Carson said following LC’s second straight win. “The guys are sharing the basketball, and our passing was good for the most part tonight. I’d like to see us make some more free throws, but we’ve been so good at making those all year, I guess we are due to miss some here and there.

“Our leadership … just guys holding each other accountable and doing the things we need to do to be successful. We are just going to worry about us, and wherever the chips fall for tournament seeding, that’s where they fall.”

Next for the Lions is a game Friday, Feb. 9 at home vs. Ripley.

The Mustangs next play on Feb. 9 as well, when they travel to face Fayetteville.