The Cardington girls’ basketball team was able to outlast host Northmor Wednesday night in a back-and-forth game.
In their 39-38 victory, the Pirate defense dominated the first half, as they took a 16-8 lead. They would extend that advantage to a 24-13 margin a few minutes into the third, but Northmor then went on a 20-1 run over an eight minute span. Cardington would finish strongly, though, finishing the game on a 12-4 run to steal the one-point decision.
“Every game, man,” said head coach Kevin Fitzpatrick. “Every game this year has been like this. We had one game where we could actually take a breather and that was the second game of the year. Every game besides that have been fourth quarter games. I think for us, though — and coach (Scott) Hardwick said the same thing — those make you better at the end of the season.”
Trailing 34-27 with four minutes left in regulation, the Pirates got a three-pointer by Lydia Hess and a bucket from Madison Caulkins to make it a two-point deficit. Riley Johnson counted with a three-pointer with 2:33 left, but the Golden Knights would struggle to generate offense down the stretch against Cardington’s pressure defense.
Back-to-back baskets by Samantha Miller-Spires and Abigail Hardwick brought the Pirates within one and a pair of free throws by Miller-Spires gave them a 38-37 lead with 46 seconds left. Caulkins added a free throw with nine seconds left to make it a two-point margin. Northmor drew a foul with time running out, but could only connect on one of two shots to allow the Pirates to escape.
Northmor assistant coach Taylor Tackett felt her team simply needs to get more experience in closing out close games.
“We’re younger girls who don’t know how to handle situations like that,” she said. “We haven’t been in that situation, so they started coming back a little bit and we didn’t handle the ball like we know that we should. We’ve just never been in that situation, so we started freaking out a little bit and kind of got out of sorts and they forced us into some turnovers and things we didn’t want to do.”
It took a lot of work for Northmor to put themselves in a position to win, as very little went right for them offensively in the early going. In the first quarter, an Emilee Jordan basket tied the game at 2-2, but the Golden Knights then watched Hardwick hit a pair of baskets, with Hess and Caulkins also scoring from the field.
Leading 10-2 going into the second quarter, Cardington then played Northmor to a draw over those eight minutes to still lead by eight going into the half. Four points by Caulkins would help the Pirates move in front by 11 before Northmor came to life.
Trailing 24-13, the team got one free throw by Ryann Brinkman, which was followed by an Emily Zeger steal-and-score and a bucket from Riley Johnson. Caulkins hit one-of-two from the line for Cardington, but Northmor finished the period with a flurry, getting three points from both Lauren Johnson and Brinkman and two from Zeger to surge in front 26-25.
“That’s what we told them at halftime — we’re getting the shots we want, we just have to keep shooting,” said Tackett. “They’ve got to fall at some point. Work it inside and get it out and they finally started failing. That’s how we kind of made our comeback.”
Cardington’s drought continued into the fourth quarter, as Madison Simpson hit two free throws, Zeger drained a three and Jordan scored off an offensive rebound to extend the Golden Knight lead to eight points.
“We didn’t score in, I’d say, probably at least eight or nine minutes,” said Fitzpatrick. “They got an eight-point lead on us and we just could not put the ball in the basket and we had a lot of easy shots.”
The key down the stretch: the Pirate defense.
“We put some pressure on and started making some good plays,” said the coach. “Our kids made some really outstanding attacks and scoring. Lydia made a huge three for us to put it at four. Then we put the pressure on and made our free throws when we needed it. You look at our free throw stats, we’re like 48 percent for the season, so making them at the end was nice to see.”
Caulkins led Cardington with 16 points, while Miller-Spires contributed eight. For Northmor, Zeger led the way with 10, while Simpson tallied eight.
Tackett hopes her team responds to a heartbreaking loss to a country rival.
“It’s still one of the most frustrating things as a team,” she said. “It’s a game you want so bad. When it’s a rivalry like this and you’ve lost so many times in a row, you really want that and so it still hurts and still stings. Hopefully that sticks with the girls and hopefully that puts some fire in them for the next game.”