Unbeaten Fort Loramie built a comfortable third quarter lead and then held on in a frantic finish to hand Fairlawn its first loss of the young season.
Ft. Loramie – It is the holiday season, and a time of blessing for everyone who believes that good things come to those who wait, work, and persevere.
And after Fairlawn’s Nathan Lessing hit his first shot of Tuesday’s games with Ft. Loramie, a three-pointer from the top of the key, it was a hoped-for omen of basketball blessings to come.
But from that point on, Lessing, perhaps your early leader in the clubhouse for the area’s most underappreciated impact player, found it tough going for the remaining 31 minutes and 40 seconds of Tuesday’s 51-43 loss to the now 4-0 Ft. Loramie Redskins. Fairlawn drops to 3-1.
Lessing, who will by season’s end average 20 points a game, is the straw that stirs the drink for a Fairlawn team that emerged last winter – one that many point to as the most underappreciated team in the Shelby County League in 2016-17.
And for the first 16 minutes of Tuesday’s meeting of unbeatens they showed why.
The two teams played defense, and made every possession miserable for each other. The lead traded hands four times and was never more than three points in the half. They left the floor for the locker room tied 22-22, both teams struggling to score.
Lessing would have ten points by that time, but rarely does he have to work so hard.
Loramie came out in the third quarter and managed a couple of early scores from guard Evan Berning to take a five-point lead, but not until the midway point of the frame. From there they built that advantage to as much as nine points and led 30-23 at the outset of the final quarter.
Loramie, a team in the making for the better part of two years now, has the goods. They can score. They can defend. And with 6’7” Tyler Siegel guarding the paint they can be prohibitive as anyone in Division IV basketball around the rim. But you can’t play against what you haven’t seen after just four games and that fact alone was almost their undoing in the final eight minutes.
Fairlawn came out in a full-court trapping defense and it immediately had an impact. A couple of turnovers by Loramie, a couple of transition baskets by the Jets, and a couple of clutch three-point shots by the Jets’ Luke Hickman…and Loramie’s lead was down to three points with just over two minutes left.
“We hadn’t seen that kind of pressure yet and it showed,” said Loramie’s Corey Britton. “We’re obviously a work in progress right now, and a lot of that starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job.”
But as quickly as they lost their aggressiveness (in Britton’s words), the Redskins regained it to finish strong, hit six of eight from the free throw line, and salt the game, and the win, away.
Neither team burned the nets, but Loramie gave Britton what he likes best…shared contributions and balanced scoring. Berning (12), Dillon Braun (15), Siegel (12) all scored in double figures and made their presence felt down the stretch – all making clutch free throws with the game up for grabs.
“I thought we did a good job defending Lessing,” added Britton. “And he still got 20. It was a collective effort and we focused on stopping him. But credit the Fairlawn kids, they fought back at the end and the Hickman kid hit a couple of huge threes. Lessing’s a great player, but they’ve got some other kids that can play, too.”
For a game in early December, it was a key matchup, and it drew a good crowd intent to see if the pecking order of the league was to be established by Christmas. Could Fairlawn challenge the anticipated dominance of Loramie in the Shelby County Conference?
There was little question by game’s end.
“We came out and didn’t shoot very well in the third quarter,” said Fairlawn coach Justin Tidwell. “I thought we were a little flat and that’s always a concern with league games like this on Tuesday night. I think there’s always more hype on Friday.
“I think our ball movement (or lack thereof) was an issue for us; our trap and and pressure helped give us a chance at the end. But we also gave them a lot of chances at the foul line on easy baskets, and they’re a good team. That’s how they won it.”
Dillon Braun agreed.
For his part Lessing was able to smile at the irony of the scoring 20 points, and yet not be able to push his team over the hump in the fourth quarter when the finish, and the win, seemed within their grasp.
“We just had a tough shooting night the whole night,” he nodded. “And their defense was good. We picked up the pressure at the end and got some easy baskets, but we missed too many easy baskets, too. We just got ourselves in too deep a hole.”
The uniqueness of the Shelby County League is that games like Tuesday’s create plenty of incentive, motivation, for the next time the two teams meet in January. Close on Tuesday, Lessing was already thinking of the rematch.
“We’re going to prepare a lot more, I know.” he added. “We’ll have the extra motivation for that game to win at our place. Hopefully we’ll shoot a lot better than we did tonight. They’re a good team and give them credit because they played really good tonight. Shelby County basketball makes it tough to come out and get in a good shooting groove, and they did that.”
It won’t be the last time that Nate Lessing scores 20 this year, but he smiled at the notion that it might be the toughest 20 he’ll score before now and February.
“That was tough,” he said with a smile. “They made it tough.”