After a 19-3 regular season, the Cardington girls’ basketball opened the postseason by earning their 20th win and their first playoff victory since 2006 with a 62-37 decision over Fairbanks.
“Our assistant coach, Kirsten Ebert, was on that team that was district runner-up then,” said head coach Jamie Edwards. “Fairbanks is a good team. It’s almost good they jumped on us because it gave us a good first round match-up.”
Cardington played the Panthers in the regular season, taking a 47-37 win in a game that wasn’t decided until the final quarter. In the early going, it looked like it might be deja vu, as the contest was closely contested for the entire first quarter.
After three minutes, Fairbanks held a 6-4 lead, but Cardington battled back to score seven straight points — four from Kyndall Spires and three more from Sage Brannon. The Panthers battled back to get within an 11-10 margin, but another bucket from Brannon gave the Pirates a three-point lead after the first quarter.
Cardington would then dominate the next two quarters to pull away from their guests. In the second quarter, they opened with nine quick points, with Brannon scoring four and Alyson Adams adding a three-pointer, to take a 22-10 lead. After a three-pointer by Fairbanks’ Monica Phillips, Cardington scored nine more in a row, four by Mikayla Conrad, to jump in front 31-13. They would maintain an 18-point lead into the half at 35-17.
Edwards noted that his team’s defense did a lot to give them that lead, as their plan was to frustrate the Panther shooters.
“We brought our trap up to half-court,” he said. “We told the girls to make them shoot quick 3s and faster than they’re comfortable with.”
Helping the Pirates on defense was the return of freshman guard Kynlee Edwards. While not completely healthy after suffering a late-season hand injury, she was still able to be a disruptive influence defensively.
“She’s still not cleared, but one positive thing about also being the dad is you get to make the call,” said Jamie Edwards, noting that after a family discussion, it was decided she could play. “Her and Sage in there is something for teams to deal with. The team calls them ‘fire’ and ‘ice’.”
Fairbanks opened the third quarter with a thre-pointer, but only scored one more point in the opening four minutes of the period. During that time, Cardington tallied six to move in front 41-21. The Panthers scored another basket, but a shot by Kynlee Edwards and two buckets from Alex Maceyko made it a 24-point margin.
With the score 47-26 in the final minute of the quarter, the Pirates finished on a tear, getting back-to-back three-pointers from Conrad and Maceyko to lead 53-26 with eight minutes to play.
In the fourth, Cardington led by as much as a 61-28 margin before Fairbanks closed the game on a 9-1 run, allowing them to cruise into Thursday’s game with Newark Catholic in the sectional finals.
Coach Edwards noted that his team had a much better performance against Fairbanks than they did in the regular season, citing the fact they avoided foul trouble Wednesday, as well as how his young team matured a lot over the last month-and-a-half.
“Foul trouble in the last one killed us,” he said. “Kyndall (Spires), Kynlee (Edwards) and Summer (Morgan) didn’t play in the second quarter and part of the third. Also, now our sophomores are juniors and are freshmen are sophomores. They have a lot more experience with 15 more games under their belt.”
Brannon led the Pirates with 11 points, while both Maceyko and Conrad scored 10 and Adams added eight. The coach also noted his team played in front of a strong crowd, which fired them up for their first postseason game of the year.
“It was very well-organized,” he said. “Coach Ebert took the reins on that and organized a good little neon night. Our crowds have rivaled some of the boys’ crowds. It’s been fun to be a part of it, especially in my first year back at my alma mater. The Division I atmosphere can’t touch this.”
The only negative on the night for Cardington was that Morgan, the team’s only senior, suffered a leg injury in the fourth quarter. However, the coach is hoping the rest of his players can pick up the slack.
“It hurts losing Summer Morgan just 20 seconds before we were taking her out,” he said. “But we have a lot of kids stepping up. We really have seven or eight starters and can start any of them and don’t lose a beat.”