FAIRFIELD — Zahrya Bailey’s reaction summed up a joyous Saturday afternoon for Fairfield High School’s girls basketball team.
“We did it … we did it,” a beaming Bailey said after the Indians toppled visiting Lakota West 53-48 in a Greater Miami Conference opener at the Fairfield Arena. “This was a statement. I’m so proud of us.”
Fairfield’s last win over the Firebirds was a 59-35 decision on Feb. 2, 2011. Raeshaun Gaffney keyed that home victory by pouring in 39 points.
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David Loper took over as head coach the following season for the Indians, who then lost their next 11 meetings with West by an average score of 64-34.
Loper had experienced enough beatdown losses in this series to know that Saturday was a special moment.
“That’s a signature win, there’s no question,” Loper said. “We played the most complete game I’ve seen us play in a long time. It was awesome.
“I’m trying not to be overzealous, but I’ve got to tell you, I’m really, really proud of the kids. The coaches have been telling them they are a very good basketball team, and now I think they’re starting to believe it.”
Bailey scored 16 of her 23 points in the second half and sank 7-of-8 free throws in the final two minutes for Fairfield, which improved to 2-0.
The Indians were 21-of-30 from the charity stripe, 13-of-15 in the fourth period, and gave the Firebirds their first loss in three games this season.
“Before the game, we wrote down goals we wanted,” Bailey said. “The main thing was communication, pressure the ball, and I think we did that tremendously well. We outrebounded them, we knocked down our free throws … this was a team effort. We just wanted to come out here and show ’em what we were about.”
Mason and West have dominated the GMC in recent years and were voted first and second, respectively, in this year’s preseason coaches poll.
Yet Mason coach Rob Matula and West coach Andy Fishman both said the GMC would be much more competitive in 2018-19. Ironically, both teams are now 0-1 in conference play (the Comets lost to Princeton 35-34 on Saturday).
Fishman wasn’t around when the final horn went off Saturday. He coached the first three quarters, then had to catch a flight to attend a family funeral in Florida.
“This is the kind of situation that I anticipated us being in a lot this year,” West assistant coach Carlton Gray said. “We graduated a lot of kids and have a lot of new kids out there … those days of the 40- and 50-point wins are over with. I guarantee it’s not going to be the last game where we’re fighting and scratching and clawing at the end.
“In a lot of ways, it might help our kids develop and become better basketball players. We have to learn how to execute offensively and defensively in these kinds of situations. I hope that this serves as a wakeup call for us in the way we have to practice and the way we have to prepare and the attitude we have to have when we step on the floor.
“You don’t lose these kind of games in the last 30 seconds. You lose these kind of games throughout the game if you’re not doing the things that you need to do. You let a good basketball team keep getting confidence and keep getting energy and get their emotion going in a positive way. Fairfield took it to us. They punched us in the mouth, and I don’t think we responded well.”
The Indians shot 30 percent from the floor and committed 19 turnovers. The Firebirds made 39.5 percent of their field goals and turned the ball over 21 times.
Kailyn Dudukovich paced West with 13 points and eight rebounds. Nevaeh Dean scored eight points, and Bryana Henderson collected six points, four boards and five steals.
Fairfield took the lead for good (33-32) on Lexi Yarbrough’s layup with 6:55 remaining. Included in the Indians’ winning surge down the stretch was a 3-pointer by Maddie Schaeffer, which extended the hosts’ advantage to 43-36 with 2:15 left.
“They came at us and trapped us and caused a little bit of turmoil, but my kids have seen that,” Loper said. “They knew not to panic. They knew to take care of the ball, and then we knocked down our free throws. They say free throws don’t mean much except in close games. You’ve got to make them to win a game like this, and we did today.
“We felt talent-wise that we could play with them. We like our talent. We like who we have. We thought we matched up well with them because we’ve got speed with our guards and we’ve got some inside play. We finally got over the hump and played up to our potential throughout the whole game.”
Bailey, who will play for Wilmington College next year, contributed five rebounds and four assists for Fairfield. Schaeffer added six points and six boards, and Journee Hicks tallied seven of her eight points in the fourth quarter.
“Give them credit. Whatever we weren’t able to do, they weren’t allowing us to do it,” Gray said. “It sounds like it’s going to be a crazy year in the GMC. It’s far from over.”
Asked if he thought the West players would respond positively to the loss, Gray replied, “I would love to say yes because any time historically this has happened, we always have bounced back. But it’s up to these kids to show up when we get in the gym Monday. It’s going to take us a while to develop some consistency with our mind-set and attitude.”
The Firebirds travel to Middletown on Wednesday. The Indians will be at home against Talawanda on Monday.
Lakota West 7-11-14-16—48
LAKOTA WEST (2-1, 0-1 GMC): Jaydis Gales 1 2 4; Bryana Henderson 3 0 6; Chance Gray 1 0 3; Kailyn Dudukovich 4 5 13; Nevaeh Dean 3 2 8; Sydney Benning 1 2 4; Dominique Camp 2 2 6; Keiara Gregory 1 0 2; Jessica Clark 1 0 2. Totals: 17-13-48
FAIRFIELD (2-0, 1-0 GMC): Shaniyah Reese 1 0 2; Zahrya Bailey 5 12 23; Tori Williams 1 0 2; Kelis Jones 0 3 3; Maddie Schaeffer 2 1 6; Zaria Black 1 0 2; Journee Hicks 2 4 8; Kayla Summerville 1 0 2; Lexi Yarbrough 2 1 5. Totals: 15-21-53
3-pointers: L 1 (Gray), F 2 (Bailey, Schaeffer)