Cardington freshman Jill Bertke works inside for a basket against Centerburg on Monday.

Rob Hamilton | Morrow County Sentinel

Early in the second quarter of their Division III district semifinal basketball game against Centerburg Monday night, the Cardington Lady Pirates got a basket by Jill Bertke to take a 16-12 lead over the Trojans.

However, a deluge of turnovers would play a big role in the team not scoring a single point over the final 7:30 of the period, allowing Centerburg to take a lead they would not surrender in a game they won by a 48-35 margin to end the Pirate season at 15-10.

“We just turned the ball over too much,” said head coach Kevin Fitzpatrick. “That’s been our M.O. all season. When we don’t play well, we always have a turnover stretch where it gets us in trouble. Against these guys, we’ve always had one really bad quarter and that second quarter was our worst quarter. That second quarter changed the game.”

The coach added that the turnover bug was the biggest factor in Centerburg claiming wins over Cardington in both regular season match-ups, as well as in the tournament.

“It’s the same thing; it’s turnovers,” he said. “For some reason, we get out there against pressure and we just turn the ball over. And it’s not that much pressure. It’s their length and their size and we try to throw over and around and through instead of using ball fakes and that kind of stuff.”

In the early going, a pair of three-pointers by Abigail Hardwick kept the Pirates close to Centerburg. Trailing 12-8 with under two minutes to go in the opening period, Cardington was able to finish the quarter with a flurry, getting a bucket by Jill Bertke, a free throw from Madison Caulkins and a three from Celia Hall to move in front by two.

Bertke would give the team a four-point lead to open the second quarter, but Cardington would not be able to light up the scoreboard again until the second half was underway. Back-to-back buckets by Tiara Sheppard knotted the score at 16 and a score off an offensive rebound by Kayla Laramore gave Centerburg the lead. They would add a pair of Clara Johnson three-pointers and another bucket by Sheppard before the half to take a 26-16 lead into the break.

The Pirates would nearly erase that deficit in the opening 2:30 of the third period. Hardwick got the team started with a steal and score and Bertke followed with a basket. Hardwick then scored five straight points, with a three-pointer by the junior guard bringing Cardington within a 26-25 margin with 5:46 remaining in the period.

Unfortunately, the team would only get two points from Bertke over that time and Centerburg was able to rally and open up some breathing room at 34-27 going into the fourth.

“We fought all the way back to one point,” said Fitzpatrick. “I think we got tired. I probably should have used a time out. I tried to use a time out early just to give them a blow because the group out there, I didn’t want to change it too much. And then we had a couple bad turnovers there and I think we lost our man a couple times and they got a couple easy buckets and they stretched the lead back out. I think we had the ball down one, so we had our chances.”

Hardwick connected on a pair of threes in the fourth quarter for Cardington, but they would not be able to get any closer than a 38-33 score with 2:51 left in regulation. Down the stretch, the Trojans were able to hit 6-of-8 free throws to build their lead into double figures and advance to the district finals.

After the game, Fitzpatrick noted that he was able to play a lot of girls at the varsity level this year, including a number of freshmen who got more and more varsity time as the season progressed. With all except seniors Lydia Hess and Genevieve Longsdorf back this year, he said his group has a lot of potential and a very realistic hope of returning to district play next year with the goal of going a little farther into the tournament.

“That’ll be our goal,” he said. “First will be to win the KMAC and then to get back here and compete for a district title. The great thing about it is I was able to play a lot of kids. They got a lot of experience. They’re not freshmen any more; they’re basically sophomores. They’ve got 25 games under their belt now. The key is going to be getting in the gym in the offseason. We’ve got to work on our mistakes and we’ve got to work on our weaknesses. You’re not going to get better if you don’t pick up a ball until October.”

Hardwick led the team with 19 points, hitting four three-pointers, while Bertke tallied 12.

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