LEESBURG — In a makeup game that was played on a Saturday afternoon, the Fairfield Lions were unable to keep pace with the West Union Dragons in the latter stages of the second half, falling in their homecoming game by a 63-52 score in Southern Hills Athletic Conference action.

Fairfield played without leading scorer Sam Buddelmeyer, and top post player James Bentley played in just the first half, leading to the Lions not having their full lineup on the court at any time during the game.

“They got in foul trouble early with some of their key players, and we were playing without one of our key players for the entire game and another missed the second half, but there is no excuse. Defensively, we let them get in the middle, and that is why they won. They caught the ball in the middle at will, and there is no question about it,” FHS head coach Josh Howland said. “They (West Union) didn’t let us catch the ball in the middle, and it made a difference with our best post players on the bench.

“We knew it would be a challenge without them, but we have to step up better than that. That was one where we’ll look back and regret because that will affect the tournament seeding … it will. This loss cost us a seed spot, no doubt.”

Even with that against them, the Lions managed to keep the game close in the first quarter with the score being tied twice at 2-2 and 9-9 as Wyatt Willey tied the score at nine with a layup off a Fairfield steal in transition with 1:55 left in the quarter, That tied score didn’t last long as the Dragons sank a 3-pointer off a shot from Cameron Campbell, followed by two free-throw makes by Brycen Staten for a 14-9 deficit with 28.4 left in the first.

Fairfield answered with a layup by Bryson Simmons, but the Dragons came back wth two more free throws, these by Conner Campbell, to increase their lead to five points. As time ran out on the buzzer, Willey swished a 3-pointer for the home team Lions to make it a two-point game, trailing the Dragons, 16-14.

Willey led all scorers with 28 points in the loss.

“What Wyatt did – and it wasn’t on the scoreboard – is he tried to rally the troops and tried to pull them together in the second half. That is what goes a long way,” Howland said. “That leadership is what we need from more than just him, and that is the problem because we weren’t getting it from the other guys. Wyatt was doing everything he could to help.”

West Union outscored the Lions, 18-13 in the second, but once again the score was tied twice in the frame, this time at 23 and 25 points. Willey tied the game at 23 with two free throws at the 4:01 mark, followed by a layup from Simmons with 3:37 on the clock to then tie the score at 25-25.

West Union took the lead back with a bucket by Ryan Rothwell and followed that with a free throw by Conner Campbell and a 3-pointer from Rothwell for a 32-25 lead with 2:35 left in the first half. FHS rallied with a rebound and jumper from Simmons, but two made free throws by West Union’s Cameron Campbell and Rothwell pushed the visiting Dragons ahead, 34-27 at halftime.

The Lions came out of the locker room to start the second half with a 5-0 run, with Willey scoring all five points to bring the Lions back to within two points of tying the game at 34-32 with 5:54 left on the third-quarter clock.

West Union answered with a free throw, but as the quarter continued the Lions outscored the Dragons, 18-15 for the entire eight-minute frame, though West Union still held the lead at 49-45.

As the third frame continued, the Lions grabbed the lead for the first time since the first quarter with a long-range jumper by Simmons and a layup around West Union defenders by Willey for a 36-35 advantage with 4:38 remaining in the quarter.

Following a West Union timeout, the Dragons sank a 3-pointer by Bowan Tomlin to regain a two-point lead, but again, Willey was there to lead the Lions, scoring two points in the paint for a 38-38 score with 3:49 on the third-quarter clock.

The two teams exchanged the lead seven times from the 3:10 mark to the 55-second mark of the third, with the Lions having a 3-pointer by Willey, a layup from Simmons and two points by Conner Priest. West Union eventually left that pattern of lead changes with the lead, as Tomlin made the final two baskets of the quarter for the 49-45 West Union lead.

That lead stayed with the Dragons for the entire fourth quarter as West Union outscored the Lions, 14-7 in the final eight minutes. Fairfield’s fourth-quarter scoring came from Simmons and Willey, with Willey sinking a 3-pointer and two-point basket in the frame.

The loss sends the Lions to 5-5 in the SHAC, putting them in second place behind Peebles, who is 6-4 in the SHAC Div. II standings. Fairfield will next play on Tuesday, Feb. 6 vs. Fayetteville in an SHAC contest.

“We have Fayetteville, and we are in contention with Peebles for the league title, so Tuesday is a must-win game. It is a game we have to come out and play well,” Howland said. “We have to contest their guards, and they have players in the post who we’ll have to focus on, too. The game is here on Tuesday, and hopefully we can recover and move on.”