A late comeback propelled Mount Gilead past host Cardington Tuesday night by a score of 66-61 in a KMAC boys’ basketball contest.
The Pirates (1-5, 1-4 in league play) opened the final period with hot shooting. Four baskets — one from long range — by Gavin Crockett and a three-pointer from A.J. Brehm turned a 42-41 Pirate lead into a 54-45 advantage with 5:11 left in regulation.
Paul Butterman hit a basket and free throw for the Indians, which was followed by a Carter Kennon basket. Cardington countered with a three from Connor Mcle to make it 57-50 with 3:52 remaining, but points would be hard to come by for the Pirates the rest of the way.
The team suffered a drought of over two minutes, during which time MG was able to tie things up behind five points from Elijah Chafin and a pair of Kennon free throws. A shot from Brehm gave Cardington the lead one more time at 59-57, but the Indians had an answer. Chafin made one of two free throws, but Butterman grabbed the rebound off the mis and dished it to Kennon for two more points.
After a missed shot by Cardington, Chafin drew another foul and hit both of his free throws. The Pirates would get a late basket from Journey Williamson to close within a 62-61 score, but MG closed out the game behind foul shots from Kennon and Chafin.
“That was one of our keys to winning,” said MG coach Dan Strasser after his team improved to 5-3, 4-2 in league play. “We know what this game is about: impulse control and controlling emotions. I can’t say we did that in the first three quarters, but we did in the last four minutes.”
Both teams had to make do without key players in the contest. For the Indians, starter Aaron Gannon and a pair of bench contributors were ill, while Cardington had to play without injured senior Nate Hickman — easily their most experienced player.
“We’re really, really young,” said Pirate coach Ryan Treese. “To be able to turn this page so fast without Nate. Technically, everyone’s a freshman varsity-wise. When Nate went down, I knew it’d take all of us stepping up.”
And for much of the game, it looked like that might happen. For the first three quarters, it was anyone’s game, as neither team could maintain the momentum.
Trailing 8-6 late in the first quarter, the Indians ended the period with five straight by Chafin to lead by three after eight minutes. However, Cardington opened the second period with back-to-back threes from Crockett and two points by Briggs. Five straight points by MG would tie the game, though, and neither team could earn any separation as they went into the half at 21-21.
The third quarter was more of the same, with both teams holding leads of three to five points. It would be Cardington holding the lead going into the fourth after Crockett hit a late three to turn a two-point deficit into a 42-41 advantage.
Treese felt one thing his team needed to do late in the game was maintain possession of the ball for longer.
“At some point, we have to take a little clock off,” he said. “Gavin hit that corner three and Connor hit one and they felt confident they could do it again. Also, the biggest factor was that we only shot four free throws and they shot 38. Part of that was aggressive defense.”
However, the coach is very pleased with how his team has improved from when he took over the program shortly before the season began. Treese noted that improvement came because of his players’ mindset.
“Not caring who scores and not caring what the outcome is,” he said. “They’re playing their butts off and working. I think in the first two weeks, they were reluctant to fix things that needed fixed. It’s the willingness to not worry about mistakes. That’s the biggest thing with young kids. What we were doing wasn’t working, so what’s the risk?”
Despite Cardington’s youth, Strasser was expecting a tough night on their floor.
“That’s what this rivalry is about,” he said. “It’s not a cliche; it’s true. Throw the records out. They had a lot of kids play well.”
Crockett finished with 26 and four three-pointers for Cardington, while Brehm hit for 14 points. Mount Gilead got 28 from Chafin, while both Butterman and Kennon added 15. And most importantly for Strasser, his team earned the win.
“Not only that, but going into Christmas break, talk about a Christmas gift,” he said. “It’s always sweeter when you beat your county rival.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS