PDT Sports Writer
ATHENS — Some of P.J. Fitch’s greatest worries came to fruition Tuesday night.
The Eastern coach was concerned with the size and length that came with No. 5 Leesburg Fairfield. The Lions pounded the top-seeded Eagles on the glass and held on for a 55-52 Division IV Southeast District Semifinal win Tuesday night at Ohio University’s Convocation Center.
“We didn’t rebound the ball well, we worked on rebounding, boxing out against their bigs (because) we knew they were a pretty big team,” Fitch said.
Thanks to a game-high 27 points from Quentin Williams, Fairfield will take on No. 2 South Webster Saturday night. While Fitch knew controling Williams was a concern for his bunch, the effort his group gave in the first half was alarming.
“We (weren’t) cutting hard, defensively we had certain rotations where we wanted to keep the ball out of Williams’ hands and once he got it in his hands, we wanted to keep him out of the paint,” Fitch said. “We just got in the moment, we didn’t think and we didn’t execute what we wanted to do defensively.”
Despite being outrebounded 25-13 and trailing 27-15 at the half, Eastern stormed out of the locker room with an 8-2 run thanks to three steals. The Eagles were able to cut the margin down to as close as 40-36 late in the frame before Joey Wilson made the final basket of the quarter to bump the difference back up to six.
“The second half was as good as we could play and as hard as we could play,” Fitch said. “Very, very proud of the effort in the second half.”
Eastern made another run to start the fourth and took the lead at 45-44 with 5:40 to go when Josh Thaker finished off a steal with a circus shot down the paint. It was the Eagles’ first lead since a 7-5 lead midway through the first.
The SOC I champions were able to build their biggest lead of the night at four when Tavares Pickett split a pair of free throws for a 51-47 lead. But the Lions closed the game out on an 8-1 run to advance. Eastern finished that stetch with just one field goal attempt and five fouls.
The lone shot in that span went to senior Chad Lands, who drove down the lane but missed a layup and forced the Eagles to foul with 0.8 to go.
“Chad had a good look there at the end, we set something up to get the ball inside, something good going to the bucket and had him curl back around,” Fitch said. “We had an isolation set up, he got all the way to the rim and unfortunately that’s sometimes how this game works. The ball didn’t go in.”
Lands, who was named the Associated Press’ Division IV Southeast District Player of the Year after the list was released Tuesday night, closed out his career with 18 points.
Pickett, his classmate, added 11 points and eight rebounds on the night. The pair, along with Colton Lightle, Zack Polen, Matt Alley, Brandon Murphy, Matt Dyke and Alex Phipps, leave behind a legacy of three SOC I titles in four years along with last year’s regional final appearance.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leesburg Fairfield 12 15 15 13 — 55
Eastern 7 8 21 16 — 52
Fairfield — Williams 10-4-27, Hilderbrant 0-2-2, Bates 2-1-5, Montgomery 2-2-5, Bennett 1-1-4, Wilson 5-1-11, Totals 20-11-55.
Eastern — Lightle 2-1-6, Fultz 2-1-5, Lands 5-6-18, Pickett 4-3-11, Thacker 2-1-5, Murphy 3-1-7, Totals 18-13-52.
3-Point Goals — Fairfield 4 (Williams 3, Bennett); Eastern 3 (Lands 2, Lightle).
Records — Fairfield 13-11; Eastern 18-4.