DAYTON — The third time on paper, for the Fairland Lady Dragons anyway, appeared to be the charm.
With undefeated Fairland playing in its third girls basketball state semifinal in school history on Thursday, the Lady Dragons — by many observers’ accounts — drew the favored card against Canal Fulton Northwest.
But indeed the senior-laden Lady Indians had other ideas, and made Fairland’s third experience at the state tournament —and first in Division II after back-to-back Division III appearances in 2014 and 2015 —perhaps its most miserable.
The perimeter-shooting Lady Dragons dropped in only 14 total field goals, including an icy 2-of-17 from three-point territory, and scored easily a season-low in points en route to a 56-34 loss inside the University of Dayton Arena.
That’s right —the numbers never lie, and the Lady Dragons’ storybook season of the best in school history came to a sudden end.
Fairland finishes at 27-1, won its third all-time regional title, and captured the outright Ohio Valley Conference championship once again—its current league win streak at 37 games.
Against now 27-2 Northwest, there were three ties at 2-2, 4-4 and 10-10 —and six lead changes, five in the first quarter including Fairland’s last lead at 14-13.
But the Lady Dragons scored just twice in the second stanza —20 seconds in for their largest lead of three times (7-4, 9-6 and 16-13), and again on a Kylie Bruce basket to make it 20-18 Northwest.
That was as close as Fairland would get —once Delanie Carmany canned a top-of-the-key three-point goal to give the Lady Indians the lead for good.
Carmany then made a long-winged two to beat the second-quarter buzzer —for the Lady Indians’ largest lead of the opening half at 29-18.
Fairland got no closer than seven points twice in the third period (29-22 and 34-27), as the Lady Indians —outscoring the Lady Dragons 16-4 in the second canto and 14-5 in the fourth quarter —extended their advantage to as large as 23 with exactly two minutes remaining.
The Lady Dragons’ poor shooting numbers told one story — 14-of-50 for 28-percent plus the 12-percent from deep.
Fairland also missed 10 free throws (4-of-14), were outrebounded 37-29, scored 10 fewer points off turnovers (16-6), and got burned by points in the paint (42-20).
Northwest held the lead for 21 minutes and 50 seconds, compared to just 7:41 for Fairland.
What happened on Thursday in Dayton was a double-edged sword, said veteran Fairland coach Jon Buchanan.
“It’s a tough one. The third time our program has been here, and we really felt like we had a very good chance to win the game. But they outplayed us in every facet. I know there are going to be questions about shooting, because we obviously shot the ball poorly from every line out there. The three-point line, the foul line, the block, wherever,” he said. “I thought they outplayed us in other aspects too. It wasn’t just shooting. We just didn’t play very well. We have to figure out a way to be better once we reach this stage. We couldn’t always speed them up, they had longer possessions which kept our (three-point) attempts down, we didn’t get up our total number of attempts that we wanted. Then we didn’t make the ones we had either. I will give Northwest a lot of credit for their defense in that they made shots tough for us. We just didn’t have it on the offensive end today and that cost us.”
No Lady Dragon scored in double figures, as Fairland graduates just two seniors —Tomi Hinkle and Reece Barnitz.
Hinkle, as bestowed by the Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association, was named the Division II Southeast District Player of the Year.
The seven-senior strong Lady Indians got a 13-point and 13-rebound double-double by six-foot and two-inch post Lily Bottomley, who actually exited the game two-and-a-half minutes in with two quick fouls.
Bottomley bucketed five field goals and 3-of-5 free throws, while fellow senior Ashley Cudnik scored 16 points on eight field goals —as Northwest was 25-of-47 for 53-percent.