By Brad Morris
Fairland entered a Division II Southeast District semifinal averaging 69.6 points per game and showed why on Monday night by draining 14 three-pointers en route to a 61-23 win over the Circleville Tigers inside Logan High School.
The Dragons (24-0) advance to a district championship on Friday against another Mid-State League Buckeye Division opponent, Fairfield Union, with tip-off slated for 6 p.m. at Southeastern High School. Fairfield Union (15-9) defeated Marietta 45-40 in the second semifinal of the night.
Fairland, ranked second in the state in the final Division II poll of the season by the Associated Press, scored the first seven points of the game and sprinted out to a 16-2 lead, draining four three-pointers along the way.
“Fairland is arguably the best team I’ve seen since I’ve been a girls basketball coach,” Circleville coach Brian Bigam said. “They are deep and talented.”
Circleville (19-5) tried to battle back, scoring seven of the final nine points in the first quarter to cut its deficit to 19-9.
Morgan Blakeman scored a pair of baskets for the Tigers in the quarter, Maddie Blakeman knocked down a three-pointer and Faith Yancey added a basket.
Fairland extended its lead to 34-13 at halftime and 55-21 headed into the fourth quarter.
Bree Allen led all scorers with 19 points, including five three-pointers, for the Dragons, and Tomi Hinkle and Bailey Russell added 11 apiece.
Maddie Blakeman scored 10 points to lead the Tigers and Morgan Blakeman chipped in eight points and seven rebounds.
The Tigers finish the campaign with a nine-win improvement over last season, finishing tied for second in the league and returning to the district round of the tournament after a one-year absence.
“I’ll just remember my time with the girls,” Bigam said. “You become a family spending that much time together. They are special to me.”
Circleville loses one starter to graduation in senior Morgan Blakeman, who returned to the team after taking last season off. She reflected on what this season has meant to her after the Tigers defeated Waverly in the sectional final.
“I’m so glad I came back and played my senior season of basketball,” she said. “We have a great group of girls who are fun to be around, and we’ve had a lot of success, especially with this run we’ve been on since Christmas (CHS won 14 of its final 16 games). It’s also been nice to play with my younger sister, Maddie, this season and seeing the impact that she is already making in varsity basketball.
“Playing this season made me remember how much I loved playing basketball growing up.”
Circleville is projected to return four starters next season and adds an eighth-grade class that won the league regular-season and tournament championships to the fold.
Bigam wants the Tigers to take the next step and compete for a league and district title next season, but he knows that will require a lot of hard work in the offseason with how talented the league and district has become in girls basketball.
“Things won’t be any easier next season,” Bigam said. “The league and district return everyone. We will continue to grind in the offseason and summer to put the best product we can on the floor to make our community and school proud.”
Fairland 61, Circleville 23
CIRCLEVILLE 23 (19-5) — Morgan Blakeman 3 2-2 8, Faith Yancey 1 0-2 2, Maddie Blakeman 4-0-10, Maddux Bigam 0, Gabby McConnell 1 1-2 3. Totals 9 3-6 23. 3-pt FG: Maddie Blakeman 2.
FAIRLAND 61 (24-0) — Isa Taliaferro 1 0-2 2, Addison Godby 3-0-6, Reece Barnitz 2-0-6, Bree Allen 7-0-19, Tomi Hinkle 4-0-11, Kamryn Barnitz 2 1-2 6, Bailey Russell 4-0-11. Totals 23 1-4 61. 3-pt FG: Allen 5, Hinkle 3, Russell 3, R. Barnitz 2, K. Barnitz 1.
FG: Circleville 9-43 (.209), Fairland 23-57 (.404). 3-pt FG: Circleville 2-19 (.105), Fairland 14-37 (.378). FT: Circleville 3-6 (.500), Fairland 1-4 (.250). Rebounds: Circleville 25 (Morgan Blakeman 7, Maddux Bigam 4), Fairland 39 (Hinkle 8, Godby, Allen and Russell 6 each). Assists: Circleville 5 (McConnell 2), Fairland 13 (Hinkle 5). Turnovers: Circleville 17, Fairland 14. Fouls: Circleville 5, Fairland 8.
— Special thank you to my friend and colleague Craig Dunn of the Logan-Hocking Times for this expanded box score.