LIGONIER — For the third time this season, the Fairfield Falcons and the NorthWood Panthers will play a boys basketball game.

Except this time, everything is on the line. The winner of Friday’s Class 3A sectional semifinal will advance to the sectional championship game at West Noble, and the loser will see its season end.

Wednesday night, the Falcons defeated Lakeland 50-27, and the Panthers defeated West Noble 64-44 in the first round of the Class 3A sectional at West Noble to advance to Friday’s game.

“I think it’s exciting for our guys,” NorthWood coach Aaron Wolfe said of the third matchup with the Falcons. “I think Fairfield brings a very good basketball team. Obviously they’re a championship basketball team, winning their conference. We’ve played two very, very good games with them (NorthWood won 67-50 on Dec. 13 and 57-56 Jan. 2). We’re going to tee it up on Friday and see what happens.”

Both the Falcons (16-9) and Panthers (20-2) had big momentum plays in the third quarter of their games Wednesday to carry them to decisive victories.

For Fairfield, in the early game, it was a diving steal by senior guard Kegan Showalter in the opening minute of the third quarter.

After laying out head first to capture the ball, Showalter spotted teammate Sam Brown streaking to the basket for an easy layup that put Fairfield up 26-13.

“That was kind of a momentum thing there,” Fairfield coach Troy Beachy said. “… Kegan is our heart and soul guy. He gets the guys going. He may not score a lot, but he’s going against the other team’s best player defensively and he’s the guy hustling. That play just got us going. That was a big play.”

The Falcons were once again led by Joe Line, who scored 25 points, with all of his points coming either on free throws or 2-point goals, as he played more of a role inside to help the Falcons exploit a mismatch.

“More than anything, I thought he shared the ball really well tonight,” Beachy said of Line. “He made a concerted effort early on to get his teammates involved. They were helping in on him a lot. I thought he was pretty unselfish. I don’t think he forced a lot, he really didn’t take a lot of shots to get to 25.”

Brock Goeglein added 14 points on 4-for-6 shooting from 3-point range.

“Brock’s been a pretty consistent shooter for us all year,” Beachy said. “When his feet are set, he’s got the green light to go ahead and shoot. That got us going, too.”

Fairfield had just a 10-9 lead after the first quarter, and a 24-13 lead after the second.

Beachy said he told his team going into the game not to panic if the game was close after the first couple quarters, knowing Lakeland would try to slow the game down.

Sparked by Showalter’s play to start the third, the Falcons went on to take a 43-19 lead heading into the fourth quarter, outscoring the Lakers (2-21) 19-6 in the period.

In the late game, NorthWood closed the third quarter on an 8-0 run against West Noble (6-16) to take a 52-35 lead heading into the fourth.

Sandwiched around two 3-point goals in the run was an acrobatic steal by junior Dakiyron Fox, who managed to tip a long in bound pass in the air, gain possession, and race to the other end to hammer home a dunk that got the crowd going.

“Dakiyron made a couple hustle plays where he dove for loose balls that really helped momentum in the second half,” Wolfe said. “He made a tremendous play on that steal and then was able to regain his balance. He finished with a dunk, which is always good for momentum.”

NorthWood led 10-8 after the first quarter and 31-24 at halftime. For the Panthers, too, the third quarter was where the game was won. NorthWood outscored the Chargers 21-11 to take control of the game.

The Panthers were led by sophomore Vincent Miranda with 19 points, junior Braxton Linville with 16 and Fox with 15.

“I felt that our guys adjusted to the game,” Wolfe said of the second half. “In the first half, it was difficult to get easy shots. In the second half, I felt like we adjusted a little bit to the speed of the game and also the physicality. We were able to execute a little crisper.”

Fairfield 50, Lakeland 27

FAIRFIELD — Joe Line 10-14 5-5 25, Brock Goeglein 5-7 0-0 14, Shandon Miller 2-3 0-1 4, Sam Brown 1-1 1-2 3, Kegan Showalter 1-1 0-0 2, Brady Willard 1-4 0-0 2, Luke Stephens 0-0 0-0 0, Dustin Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Stephens 0-5 0-0 0, Jordan Geyer 0-0 0-0 0. Team: 20-36 6-8 50

LAKELAND — Camron Bontrager 5-13 0-1 12, Cole Harp 5-7 0-0 11, Martin Gordon 1-3 0-0 2, Josh Collyer 1-1 0-0 2, Britain Isaacs 0-3 0-0 0, Nolan Isaacs 0-0 0-0 0, Dustin Riehl 0-0 0-0 0, Tyler Holt 0-0 0-0 0, Preston Martola 0-0 0-1 0, Jeff Patrick 0-1 0-0 0, Lukas Harp 0-4 0-0 0, Kent Eagleson 0-0 0-0 0. Team: 12-32 0-2 27

Fairfield 10 14 19 7 — 50

Lakeland 9 4 6 8 — 27

3-point goals: Fairfield 4 (Goeglein 4), Lakeland 3 (Bontrager 2, cHarp). Fouls (fouled out): Fairfield 9, Lakeland 10. Rebounds: Fairfield 23 (Line 4, Goeglein 4, sMiller 4), Lakeland 15 (Gordon 4). Assists: Fairfield 13 (Line 4), Lakeland 8 (bIsaacs 4). Steals: Fairfield 6, Lakeland 3. Turnovers: Fairfield 10, Lakeland 13.

 NorthWood 64, West Noble 44

WEST NOBLE — Daniel Wiley 0 0-0 0, Mason Stover 0 0-0 0, Drew Wiley 0 0-0 0, Nik Risser 0 0-0 0, Brandon Moser 3 4-6 12, Grant Moser 2 2-3 7, Waylon Richardson 3 0-1 7, Kyler Warble 3 2-4 8, Larry Nickolson 2 0-2 4, Cade Barhydt 1 0-0 2, Evan Porter 2 0-0 4. Team: 16 8-16 49.

NORTHWOOD — Braxton Linville 6 2-3 16, Luke Zurcher 2 0-0 5, Vincent Miranda 7 5-8 19, Chad Sellers 0 2-2 2, Dakiyron Fox 5 5-8 15, Alec Dutkowski 0 1-2 1, Caleb Lung 0 0-0 0,Trey Bilinski 1 0-0 2, Cam Simpson 1 1-2 4. Team: 22 16-25 64

West Noble 8 16 11 9 — 44

NorthWood 10 21 21 12 — 64

3-point goals: West Noble 4 (bMoser 2, gMoser, Richardson), NorthWood 4 (Linville 2, Zurcher, Simpson).

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