For nearly the entire first quarter, it looked like host Cardington would blow River Valley out of the gym, leading the current MOAC front-runner by as many as 19 points.
However, the Vikings battled back over the middle two periods, taking a temporary lead before a strong fourth quarter pushed the Pirates to a 59-53 non-league win.
Despite claiming the hard-fought win, head coach Jamie Edwards was most focused on how a poor (11-for-25) performance from the free throw line nearly cost his squad the victory.
“We went into the half at 6-of-12 and wrote it on the board and then missed our first four in the second half,” he said. “Eleven-for-25 — everyone knows that’s going to be our Achilles heel and it’s not like we’re not working on them.”
A fast start proved crucial to the team in moving to 50-11 with Edwards as their coach. With the score tied at two after the opening minute, Cardington held their opponents scoreless for over six minutes. Kynlee Edwards started Cardington’s run with a basket and Casey Bertke (eight points) and Sage Brannon (six) sparked them to a 21-2 lead.
River Valley would start to show signs of life over the final 50 seconds of the quarter, getting four straight points to close within 15. The Vikings would then gradually chip away at Cardington’s lead in the second period. While Bertke scored five points in the quarter and Kyndall Spires added four, RV outscored Cardington 21-14 to get within a 35-27 margin at the intermission.
The third quarter started out evenly matched. While the Vikings got a pair of baskets from Erica Hyre, Cardington got two points from Bertke and a three-pointer from Edwards to lead by nine at 40-31. However, they would go scoreless over the final six minutes of the quarter, missing four free-throw attempts during that span.
River Valley took advantage of that slump, getting six points by Alexis Stevens, a three-pointer by Hyre and a last-second bucket from Taylor Hacker to lead 42-40 with eight minutes to play. After falling in a close game to Pleasant recently where the team was unable to hold an early lead, coach Edwards was starting to feel deja vu.
“Once they took the lead, I was like, ‘Aw jeez, here we go again’,” he said. “It wasn’t with threes. We continued to miss free throws, so we couldn’t extend our lead and they hit jumpers. The Stevens kid is obviously a stud and they’re well-coached.”
The Vikings wouldn’t hold the lead for long, though. Cardington opened the quarter with a free throw from Spires and then the senior forward added a putback for two more to give her team a one-point advantage. RV responded with a basket from Devon Miller, but the Pirates got a shot from Brannon and three-pointer from Edwards to go up 48-44 — a lead they would not surrender.
“We slowed it down and got more than three or four passes off,” said Jamie Edwards. “When we got some good movement, we got the shots off before they could double us.”
River Valley was able to keep it close, getting within a 50-49 margin with 3:19 remaining in the game, but Cardington finished strongly, getting a three-pointer from Edwards and five points from Brannon during an 8-1 run that gave them a 58-50 advantage with under two minutes to play.
After the game, despite his issues with his team’s free-throw shooting, the Pirate coach was happy to get a win over a tough non-league team, noting they still have a couple good out-of-league games left before getting back into the KMAC schedule.
“This was an invaluable experience,” Edwards said. “Especially since River Valley mirrors what Garaway (Cardington’s Saturday opponent whom they defeated) does. We’re looking forward to playing them. We’ve got them and Elgin coming up and then most of the rest is in the league.”
For the game, Bertke scored a game-high 19 points, while Edwards hit four three-pointers in tallying 16 and Brannon finished with 15.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS