Cardington guard Abigail Hardwick drives inside for a lay-up attempt in her team’s sectional win over Columbus School For Girls.

Rob Hamilton | Morrow County Sentinel

Through the first half of their home Division III sectional basketball contest against Columbus School For Girls, the Cardington Lady Pirates were struggling to put points on the board.

The team only scored 14 points in the first half, with their saving grace being a strong defensive effort that had held their opponents to 21 points during that time. However, they would explode for 22 in the third quarter to surge in front of their guests and never looked back in picking up a 46-34 victory.

“We decided to change up a little bit and try to just go hard and get after it a little bit on defense and be super-aggressive,” said head coach Kevin Fitzpatrick. “We started a different line-up — we went a little bit smaller with one big in. We said trap the first pass and just fly around. We went a little full-court pressure. We knew on film if we could pressure, we might get some turnovers. We went for it and it actually worked out for us.”

Trailing 21-14 entering the third, the Pirates immediately got a spark from freshman Lundyn Blevins, who connected on two three-pointers in as many minutes to cut the Unicorn lead to one point. After CSG got one free throw from Gillian Spangler, Cardington then responded with a big run, getting a pair of buckets from Abigail Hardwick, as well as a Lydia Hess three-pointer and a basket from Kinstin Henthorn to open up a 29-22 lead with 2:45 to go in the period.

Fitzpatrick noted that his squad hadn’t played for 12 days, which he felt played a role in their slow start. However, the spark they showed in the second half was more than enough to shake them out of their doldrums.

“We just went out there and were aggressive,” he said. “We had some kids come off the bench. Lundyn hit two big threes and Lydia comes off the bench and scores five or seven points. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

A dormant CSG offense was able to get points from Caroline Lanning and a three-pointer from Samantha Morris in the final minutes of the third quarter, but they would be unable to cut into the Pirate lead.

Four points by Jill Bertke, as well as two from Hess and a free throw by Hardwick allowed Cardington to hold a 36-27 lead going into the final period of play. Henthorn then opened the fourth with a three-pointer to push the Pirate lead to 12 points and their defense wouldn’t let their opponents get closer than 10 the rest of the way.

The way the game concluded was a lot more fun for Fitzpatrick than the early going. Strong defensive pressure by the Unicorns forced a few early turnovers and played a role in the score being 6-0 in favor of CSG at the 5:21 mark of the opening quarter.

“We had some tough turnovers in the beginning because the pressure got to us a bit,” he said. “I thought it was nerves more than anything. Our team does have a tendency to turn the ball over. I just called time out and tried to calm them down.”

Cardington was able to start breaking the Unicorn press as the quarter progressed and was able to ride four points each by Bertke and Hardwick to close within a 12-10 margin, but the Unicorns were able to close out the period with a three-point run to lead by five going into the second.

A bucket by Hallabrin with 5:51 left in the first half made it a 15-12 game, but the Pirates wouldn’t score again until Hardwick hit from the field in the final second. Fortunately, the team was able to hold CSG to six points in the period and only trailed 21-14 at the break.

“I thought in the second quarter, our defense was solid,” said the coach. “Obviously, the third and fourth quarter, we really picked it up. We really got up and down a little bit, got some run outs and got some big shots. Everyone that came off the bench contributed and that was the key. Our whole season’s been that way. We’re not a one-man show. Our scoring is pretty balanced, so you can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Hardwick finished with 16 points to lead Cardington in the win. The team also got eight points from Bertke as they advanced to a second-round contest Saturday at Bishop Ready.

Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS