The Fairlawn Jets continue to roar in a Friday win at Jackson Center, as senior Nathan Lessing continues to put his claim on being the most dynamic player in area Division IV basketball.
Jackson Center – For the third time in a week (Troy Christian’s James Anderson against Houston on Tuesday, and Dunbar Devon Baker against Versailles on Thursday) Fairlawn’s Nathan Lessing proved Friday that you’d better be ready to guard a dynamic scorer from the opening tip.
As Anderson put up 27 points against Houston, and Baker put up 33 against Versailles, Lessing came out with a torrid shooting hand Friday to score 19 first quarter points, 21 for the first half, and finished with 32 for the game in a 54-49 win over host Jackson Center.
The win improved Fairlawn’s record to 5-1. The loss dropped Jackson Center to 4-2, but more importantly both Jackson losses have come at the hands of the Shelby County League opponents.
Lessing, a senior that averaged 26.6 points per game last year, came out firing, connecting on a trio of three-point shots in the first period to stake the Jets to a 26-13 lead. Jackson Center, whose reputation is one of being a stingy defensive team, especially at home, simply could not get a bead on the 6’3” senior guard.
“I probably didn’t put our kids in the best position,” said a gracious Jackson coach, Scott Elchert. “But I don’t want to take anything away from Nathan Lessing. He’s a tremendous player and he can score points in a lot of different ways.”
But Elchert did put his kids in better position in the second quarter, outscoring Fairlawn 13-10, and climbed back within reach of Jets by the halftime break, 36-27.
And buoyed by a breakout game from sophomore guard Trent Platfoot, who had a season-high 19 points, Jackson Center continued their comeback in the third quarter, cutting the margin from nine points to seven, then to five, to two, and at the 2:54 mark of the third quarter the Tigers finally took the lead for the first time in the game, 37-36.
From that point on…it became vintage Shelby County League basketball.
Jackson Center, having made some expected defensive adjustments at halftime, finally found Nate Lessing, holding him scoreless in the third quarter.
But Fairlawn coach Justin Tidwell made counter-adjustments, and Lessing came back in the fourth quarter, scoring the Jets’ first four points in the quarter to flip the lead and momentum.
Far from finished, Jackson answered with six points from Platfoot and a three-pointer from Brady Wildermuth, to retake the lead twice.
But Fairlawn responded again, retaking the lead and forcing Jackson to foul as the clock drained down in the final minute. Lessing went to the line seven times…and converted all seven opportunities to seal the win. He finished with 11 in the quarter, when 11 points meant the most.
“He (Lessing) did a great job tonight, individually, but more important he was able to get everyone else involved, too,” said Justin Tidwell. “When you play Jackson Center you know they’re going to be very good defensively and you need everyone to contribute. And that’s what happened tonight.
“Defensively, we did a good job tonight in keeping Brady (Wildermuth) out of his offensive efficiency. We got a little stagnant offensively in the third quarter, but our kids never gave up. And when it got down to the end on the foul line, Nathan stepped in and did what you need a senior leader to do.”
Lessing’s 32 points were by far the offensive story of the game, Trent Platfoot notwithstanding. Still, the modest leader of the Jets preferred to deflect the credit.
“Our coaches really gave us a good game plan,” he said, choosing not to dwell on his 19-point outburst in the first quarter. “Our team just came out fired up. We were really ready for this game.”
“I was fortunate to hit those shots early, and I think it helped the team follow, especially on defense. We got some turnovers which led to easy baskets and those points helped us out at the end.”
Brady Wildermuth, for his part, did score 18 points – twelve of which came in the first half. But forced to do perhaps too much, he appeared to wear down in the second half, clearly out of synch against the attention he drew from Fairlawn’s defense.
And has been an issue with Jackson Center offensively, the output came from the top – Platfoot and Wildermuth. The combined efforts of Gavin Booser (3), Bryce Sosby (4), Fred Bunke (4), and Braden Heitkamp (1) accounted for only 12 additional points.
Still, a Jackson Center team at home is never an easy out, and Scott Elchert, while disappointed, was optimistic over their second half comeback.
“I was proud of our resiliency, when you get doubled up the way we did in the first quarter. We’re somewhat of a young team and they didn’t abandon what we needed to do to get back in the game,” said Elchert. “We finally took the right shots and knuckled down in the second half and played defense. We showed a lot of character and patience.
“It’s tough,” he continued. “When you’re down like that you’re trying to find that ten or twelve point shot to get back in, but that’s not going to happen. So again, credit the kids for hanging tough. I’m very happy for Trent Platfoot because he’s had a tough week. Lost his grandmother and tonight he just came out and played. He gave us a lift and hopefully that helps him to relax and continue to play the way he can.”
One of the area’s most fiery and competitive coaches, Elchert was gracious and appreciative of the performance of Nathan Lessing.
“He’s a great player, and we know that. And he can score in a variety of ways. I think he only had three threes for the year coming into tonight, and yet he goes out and has three in the first quarter. But I take fault for some of the first quarter, not to discredit the Fairlawn kids, but I didn’t put our kids in the best position.”
It sets up the rematch later, of course, highlighting the uniqueness of the Shelby County League. And Jackson Center now has the unenviable issue of having a pair of early league losses.
“A lot will depend upon the standing of the league when we play again,” said Elchert. “Our margin of error right now is very thin and every night in this league’s gonna’ be a dog fight. So I can’t answer the question of how we’ll respond to Fairlawn when we play again…I just know that now we have to get ready for Loramie next week, a team that’s settin’ on top of the league.
Area teams now go to the Christmas break; and for Justin Tidwell and Fairlawn Friday served notice that while the league must go through Loramie at this point, after the holidays no one can overlook the inestimable impact of Nate Lessing…and the threat – yes threat – of playing Fairlawn.
As of Friday night in Jackson Center…a “Lessing” learned.