After pulling a tournament upset over third-seeded Berne Union, an ill-timed injury prevented the Cardington boys from duplicated that feat at seventh-seeded Fairfield Christian Friday night.
The two teams played evenly for most of three quarters, but star senior Garrett Wagner suffered an ankle injury while making a basket with 2:47 left in the period. That score made it 38-37, but with Wagner out for nearly all of the final 10:47 in the contest, Cardington was outscored 29-14 during that span to fall by a 67-51 score.
“He was playing really well,” said head coach Rod Brown of Wagner. “We were down 10 and he brings us back to one and gets hurt on that shot. He wanted to try to come back. He ran down the court and took a shot and he looked at me and nodded his head. It was a tough way to go out.”
The two teams played evenly throughout the opening period. Trey Brininger hit a basket and free throw to open the game’s scoring and Cardington was able to hold a slim lead for most of the opening period. While the Knights were able to tie the score at 11, a basket by Brininger and a pair of Wagner free throws put Cardington in front 15-14 after eight minutes of play.
The next eight wouldn’t go as well for the Pirates. Fairfield Christian opened the period with a 12-2 run to take a 26-17 lead with three minutes left in the half. Cardington would get a bucket from Brininger and three points from Brandon Steckel to close within four, but the Knights finished the period with three straight points to lead 29-22 at the half.
Fairfield Christian increased their advantage to a 36-26 score early in the third, but a steal and score by Avery Harper started a comeback bid for the Pirates. Wagner then scored five straight points and Harper added two more to make it 36-35. Fairfield scored, but Wagner responded with a basket.
However, he was hurt on the play and the Knights were able to increase their lead to 45-41 by the end of the period. During that stretch, Cardington missed four free throws. Brown noted that while both teams had similar percentages from the foul line, his team struggled from the line late, while their opponents thrived.
“They were 15-of-26 and we were 13-of-23, but it was all in the fourth quarter and second half,” he said. “We were missing and they were making. That whole stretch after he (Wagner) goes down, they made their free throws and we missed. He had 19 points and didn’t play in the fourth.”
After Wagner went down, Cardington was 2-of-8 from the line, while FC went 12-of-20. That, as well as having hot hands from the field, played a big role in the Knights turning their four-point lead into a 14-point advantage in the early stages of the fourth. Fairfield Christian opened the period with a 12-2 run that gave them control of the game.
Cardington got baskets from Logan Doubikin and Daniel Kill to close within a 57-47 margin with 3:27 remaining, but would not be able to get any closer as they were outscored 10-4 over the final minutes.
Still, Brown was pleased with how his young team responded in the postseason. While he noted that he’ll miss graduating seniors Wagner and Kill, he was happy with how his younger players grew late in the season.
“I’m extremely proud of how they played and worked,” he said. “All year, we had good practices and worked hard. They really turned a corner and the win over the three-seed sparked them. If the young guys grow a little bit and get stronger, I think the future is bright.”
Wagner led the team with his 19 points, while Brininger added 11.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS