Throughout the season, Cardington head coach Jamie Edwards had mentioned his worries about his team’s recurring struggles from the free throw line.
Those issues reared their head in a big way on Tuesday night when the Pirates played Amanda-Clearcreek in a district semifinal contest at Gahanna-Lincoln High School. Cardington only hit 6-of-14 attempts from the line in a 56-55 loss that ended their season with a 22-2 record.
Still, it took more than those misses for the Aces to pull off the win. Amanda-Clearcreek trailed 46-30 with 3:33 remaining in the third quarter and were still behind 50-38 with six minutes left in the game, but hot shooting, particularly from junior Alyssa Evans, who tallied 35 points on the night and connected on seven three-pointers, allowed them to dominate the final minutes.
“They shot lights out,” said Pirate coach Jamie Edwards. “Evans didn’t miss. I haven’t seen a kid shoot like that in girls’ basketball in my eight years as a head coach.”
Each quarter had one consistent theme: Cardington would start quickly to take a lead and the Aces would battle back to keep it close. Buckets by Sage Brannon and Casey Bertke gave the Pirates an early 4-0 lead, but five points by Evans helped A-C take a 7-4 lead.
Bertke hit a basket and free throw and Alex Maceyko came off the bench to drain a three-pointer, as the Pirates rallied to tie the score at 12 after the opening period. Cardington then opened the second with a Bertke put-back after a pair of missed free throws. On the team’s next possession, Bertke was fouled and hit both her shots from the line to give Cardington a four-point lead.
After an Ace basket, the Pirates got another three from Maceyko and a basket from Kyndall Spires to lead 21-14. Evans hit a pair of three-pointers down the stretch in the period, but Cardington still led 25-22 at the half. Edwards noted that his team struggled offensively for large stretches of the game, shooting quick three-pointers instead of working for inside looks.
“We were settling,” he said. “When we were going inside-out, we were making buckets.”
However, Cardington looked to take control of the game in the third quarter, holding Evans scoreless for the first five minutes of the period and getting nine points from Spire and seven from Paige Clinger in going on a 21-8 run that put them on top by 16.
They would not score over the final 3:33 of the quarter, though, and Evans caught fire, scoring eight points during that span to cut A-C’s deficit in half. Baskets by Brannon and Spires to open the fourth quarter made it a 12-point lead again, but points would be hard to come back over the final six minutes for the locals.
Meanwhile, the Aces were red hot. After Evans hit one-of-two free throws, her team hit four three points over a 2:25 stretch to claw within a 53-51 score. Courtney Young then connected on three-of-four free throws over two trips to the line to give A-C a 54-43 lead.
A Brannon basket put Cardington ahead and, after they were able to get a defensive stop, things looked good, as the Pirates drew an intentional foul to give them two free throws and possession with 30 seconds left in regulation. Unfortunately, both freebies were missed and the team turned it over on their possession. Evans then was fouled on a three-point attempt and hit two shots to give the Aces a 56-55 lead with 13.7 seconds left.
“When you know they’re not missing and you have empty trips, there’s going to be panic,” Edwards said. “We went to stall late, but made mistakes. We had an intentional foul and the ball back, but missed both shots and turned it over and then fouled them on a three-pointer.”
The Pirates had chances to earn the dramatic win, but missed two shots on their final trip down the court to see their season come to its conclusion.
Spires led the team with 15 points, while Brannon tallied 14 and Bertke finished with 11. While disappointed in how his team’s season ended, Edwards noted that his three seniors (Spires, Brannon and Maceyko) had a lot of success as Pirates.
“Our seniors had 79 wins in their careers and have done more than any group ever did,” he said. “At least all of them will move on to the next level and play. The good thing is the story’s not over for them.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS