A late comeback bid paid off for Cardington at Mount Gilead Friday night, as Avery Harper scored from the field on a buzzer-beating shot to give the Pirates a 57-56 win.
The Indians had broken a 49-49 tie with a three-pointer by Jackson Huffer. Nathan Rogers then hit back-to-back shots to give MG a 56-49 lead with 2:48 left in regulation. However, the Indians would not be able to score again in the game.
Harper drew a foul and hit two free throws to get Cardington back on the board and then added two more points off a steal. A pair of free throws by Danny Vaught made it a one-point game at 56-55. Mount Gilead drew a foul, but missed the front end of a one-and-one with 13.6 seconds remaining.
After bringing the ball up the court, the Pirates called a timeout. When action resumed, the team got the ball into the hands of Harper, who faked a shot, slid a step to his left and drained a mid-range jumper to give his team the decision in a back-and-forth game.
“I can’t be more proud of the kids,” said Cardington coach Nick Withrow. “We’ve been preaching all year that we have to find ways to win. The best thing about the last three minutes was that we played good team basketball.”
Indian coach Dan Strasser said his team was simply looking for high-percentage shots to put the game away, but couldn’t accomplish that.
“We’re telling them nothing but uncontested lay-ups and no jumpers,” he said. “We’re trying to put the game away and didn’t. That’s on me, I guess. I guess I can second-guess it all night long. That’s we tried to do. Put the game away.”
In the early going, it would have been hard to guess that the game would have gone down to the final shot, as the Pirates dominated the early stages of the game. Harper hit three three-pointers and Vaught added another shot from long range as Cardington led by as much as a 16-3 margin in the opening period.
However, the Indians started to show signs of life as the quarter came to an end, finishing it on an 8-2 run, with all of those points coming from Jackson Huffer, who hit a pair of three-pointers.
“We calmed down after that first four minutes of the game,” said Strasser. “We took their best punch and battled back and tied it at halftime. In those close games, every possession countes. You can’t put yourself down 16-3…those possessions count.”
In the second quarter, MG took a 19-12 advantage to tie the game at 30 going into the half, as Rogers scored seven points and Joel Butterman added five. The teams traded scores back-and-forth throughout the third period, with the Indians leading 41-40 going into the fourth.
Cardington opened the final period with a free throw by Cayman Spires and then got a basket by Harper to lead 43-41, but Rogers scored for MG to tie the game at 43. The teams played closely for the next couple minutes, but after a Nate Hickman basket tied things at 49 with 4:44 remaining, Cardington had a two-minute drought that looked to set MG up for a second hard-fought win over their rivals in as many outings this season.
A couple minutes later, though, and the Pirates had completed the comeback and Harper’s game-winner had led them to victory.
“We had one get away over at their place,” said Withrow. “Credit to them for figuring out a way to win and, here, we found a way to win. Tonight’s game was clean and had great sportsmanship by both teams. It was just fun to watch.”
Harper scored a game-high 24 points for Cardington, including three three-pointers. Spires added 10, Garrett Linkous scored nine and Vaught finished with eight. For Mount Gilead, Huffer led the way with 17, while Rogers added 14 and Carter Kennon tallied 10.
Withrow noted that he is pleased with the progress his team has made from last year to this year.
“I told them earlier, how do you want to be remembered,” he said. “And we’ve doubled our league wins and tripled our overall wins from last year. This team figured out a way to win basketball games. We competed last year and now are figuring out ways to win basketball games.”
Strasser is still figuring out a way to maintain a bit more consistency in his team’s performance, noting that over the year, they’ve put forth some really good efforts against strong competition, but haven’t done so consistently.
“We’ve been talking all year,” he said. “I don’t want to use this as an excuse, but we’re basically starting two freshmen, a junior and two seniors who aren’t very experienced. We have to learn off it and build off it. We wanted this one pretty bad.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS