No surprise, but Fairlawn’s opening round win serves notice that the Jets are a serious contender for sectional, and even district (?) honors?
Piqua – Every high school basketball team in the state shares the same motto entering the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament.
“Survive and advance,” Fairlawn coach Justin Tidwell said.
Even in the first round. Yes, Fairlawn’s 72-44 victory against Bradford was the expected result in the opening round of the Division IV sectional tournament at Piqua High School’s Garbry Gymnasium on Friday. Fairlawn entered as the No. 2 seed and Bradford was No. 13.
But Friday’s first quarter was anything but routine. As an impressive lightning display danced across the night sky outside, inside Garbry Gym it took a couple quarters before the Jets shook off some shock and delivered some awe of their own.
Bradford looked nothing like a two-win team in the opening quarter, trailing 17-13 after the first eight minutes. But Fairlawn finally looked like a 20-win team – thanks in part to a spirited pep talk from Tidwell between quarters – by ripping off a 17-3 run for a 32-16 lead with 3:26 left before halftime.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth,” said Fairlawn senior Nathan Lessing, who scored a game-high 33 points. “We weren’t ready to play and they were. It showed. Coach got on us at halftime and we came out and played our game. We came together as a team and picked our game up. It opened our eyes, that’s for sure.”
After Fairlawn’s run, Bradford rallied with a mini 8-0 spurt of its own and trailed 34-26 with 35 seconds before halftime. Fairlawn senior Kody Curtner hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to push the advantage back to double digits (37-26) where it remained the rest of the game.
Junior Drew Brautigam scored 12 points – seven came in the second quarter – and senior Josh Reck added 10.
“I was just trying to step up the intensity for the game,” Brautigam said of his second-quarter scoring surge. “I think we were standing around. We had to get pumped up so I tried to do my part.”
The Jets played without senior point guard Nick Brautigam, who was sidelined with an illness. Brautigam is Fairlawn’s defensive stopper and his absence could have contributed to that rough start.
Bradford’s first two baskets were three-pointers by junior Dialaquan Millhouse and junior Parker Smith. The Railroaders finished with six 3-pointers overall, five coming in the first half. Smith led Bradford with 13 points and Millhouse 12. But the ‘Roaders couldn’t match the Jets quickness or post prowess for four quarters.
Senior Keshon Johnson, who played point guard in relief of Brautigam, also harassed Bradford ball handlers with his quick hands for a half dozen steals and deflected passes. Junior Luke Hickman joined Drew Brautigam down low to apply pressure around the rim.
“All the teams in the (Shelby County League) play good defense so it helps you prepare for games like this,” Lessing said. “We get used to it and coach draws up plays to get me open and get other guys open. It’s a big help.”
But the win wasn’t without its flaws. At one end of the court Fairlawn struggled with unforced turnovers and running its offense at times. At the other end it was defensive pressure.
“With how we’ve been playing I think we thought we would walk through,” said Tidwell, whose Jets beat the Railroaders 76-40 in the second game of the regular season. “It was a wake-up call for us. The teams you saw during the regular season aren’t the same teams you see during the tournament.”
That’s a good lesson for Fairlawn. Up next is a third meeting with fellow SCL member Botkins (8-14). Tip-off is 6 p.m. Tuesday at Piqua High School. Fairlawn won both meetings 64-47 in the season opener and 52-39 on Jan. 13.
While Fairlawn can’t look ahead in the bracket, fans certainly can. Should the sectional bracket seeds hold up, then No. 2 Fairlawn would meet No. 4 Jackson Center for the sectional title on March 3. Those two teams met in last year’s sectional final game, a 42-40 Jackson Center win. Fairlawn won both regular season games this year.
No matter the opponent from here on out, expect the Jets to be ready with that one-and-done tournament scenario.
“I feel like this is our year to make a deep run,” Drew Brautigam said. “There’s a little bit of nerves. We’re a No. 2 seed so we’re supposed to get through.”