Fairfield's Wyatt Willey finished with 11 points in the Lions' win over Paint Valley, Tuesday at Grandle Gymnasium. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
Fairfield's Wyatt Willey finished with 11 points in the Lions' win over Paint Valley, Tuesday at Grandle Gymnasium. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
LEESBURG — It wasn’t an easy task by any means for the Fairfield Lions on Tuesday night in their non-conference game against the Paint Valley Bearcats. Using their speed to keep the pace of the game they wanted, and battling in an aggressive game, they were able to keep the lead for most of the game and defeat the visitors by a 51-49 score.

The win at Grandle Gymnasium — in front of an energetic crowd — saw the Lions take the lead in the first quarter at the 3:51 mark when Cody Gragg sank two free throws to break a 6-6 tied score, and they didn’t trail for the remainder of the contest. In fact, the game wasn’t tied again until there was 1:10 left on the scoreboard when Paint Valley tied the score at 48.

From there, it was the Lions who had a big basket from Sam Buddelmeyer with around a minute to play in the fourth to regain the lead, and the Lions made some important defensive stops to keep the Bearcats from overtaking them in the final seconds.

“We made it a little closer than we would have liked to, that’s for sure, as we missed some key free throws. We have to finish at the line better than that,” FHS head coach Josh Howland said. “We tried to force some things in the quarter court at the end. We ended up with a two-point victory, and we’ll take it, but we need to try to control the game more at the end.

“I was pleased with the boys’ effort in the first half and in the first three and a half quarters. It was just the last part of the fourth where we played a little afraid. But like I said, we are young, but I feel we grew a little (Tuesday).”

Fairfield (3-0) was led in scoring by Buddelmeyer with 18 points but had a trio of scorers against the Bearcats who scored in double figures. The other two were Cody Gragg with 12 points and Wyatt Willey with 11. The Lions also had an eight-point effort from Tucker Ayres and two points by Bryson Simmons to complete the scoring.

“(Sam) has God-given ability, that’s a fact,” Howland said. “He understands how to find the basket, has a great shot fake that gets them up in the air and goes right back at them.”

Now for how the Lions were able to score enough points to defend their home court, it began with them scoring the first points of the game with a layup 13 seconds into the game by Ayres.

Paint Valley’s Division I commit — Dylan Swingle — tied the game with the first Paint Valley basket of the game, as the Lions double- and triple-teamed him every time he gained possession of the ball. Swingle led all scorers with 26 points and had many rebounds against the Lions. The Duquesne commit made 12 two-point baskets and was 2-of-6 from the free-throw line for the game.

“I will say this … one guy isn’t going to stop him from scoring,” Howland said of Swingle.

Following the points by Swingle, Paint Valley had points from Bryce Newland and Cruz McFadden for a 6-2 lead by the Bearcats with 6:06 left in the first quarter.

“We told our kids we’ll have shots blocked, and we could accept that because they (PV) had the size advantage,” Howland said. “Newland has size and athleticism. We told our guys we didn’t want to settle for long jump shots, but to make layups as much as possible.”

The Lions called a timeout, and once they talked with Howland, they settled down and took over the rest of the first quarter with a layup from Buddelmeyer, a layup by Ayres, two free throw conversions by Gragg, another layup by Buddelmeyer and a jumper by Wyatt Willey for a 10-0 run in a span of nearly four minutes to build a 12-6 lead.

The Bearcats broke the run with a put-back bucket by Swingle, only to see the Lions score the final points of the quarter off another jumper from the corner by Willey for the 14-8 first-quarter lead.

Fairfield kept their six-point lead once the second quarter came to a close, as both teams collected 14 points in the second frame for a 28-22 lead by the Lions.

Fairfield had points from Gragg, Buddelmeyer, Simmons and Ayres in the frame, with Gragg and Buddelmeyer each having four points in the quarter.

Most of Paint Valley’s second-quarter scoring belonged to Swingle with 10 of their 14 points. Also scoring for PV in the second were Newland and Caden Grubb.

The Lions added one point to their lead once the third frame was complete, outscoring the Bearcats, 12-11 in the third, though it was Paint Valley who made things interesting to start the quarter with a layup from Grubb.

FHS answered with an 8-0 run where Gragg and Buddelmeyer contributed four points apiece. PV answered with six straight points from Swingle, Newland and Hunter Hamlin for a 36-30 lead for Fairfield with 3:00 left in the third.

The Lions rallied back with four more points combined from Buddelmeyer and Willey, only to see the Bearcats have the final points of the quarter — a 3-pointer by Newland with 49 seconds on the clock — making it a 40-33 score still in favor of the host Lions.

Though the Lions were outscored 16-11 in the fourth, they were still able to hang on for the win. In the fourth, the Bearcats made one last push for the win and nearly gained it with a 10-point quarter from Swingle, four points from Newland and two points from McFadden.

Newland — who finished with 13 points — tied the score at 48 late in the final frame, but the basket by Buddelmeyer a few seconds later at the 1:08 mark, and later a turnover forced by Willey with Ayres picking up the loose basketball, led to a final free throw make by the Lions for a two-point win.

Next for the Lions is a home game on Friday, Dec. 8 against Southern Hills Athletic Conference rival Whiteoak.