By Pat Magers
CAREY - It wouldn't quite be accurate to say the Midland Athletic League girls basketball race turned into a free-for-all Thursday night.
But it's a free-for-at-least-three.
Carey put up an early defensive stand and got a monster game from senior post Hannah Tong in knocking off previously league-unbeaten Calvert 67-53.
The win allowed the Blue Devils to gain a virtual share of the league lead. New Riegel actually has a half-game lead on the pack with a 7-1 record after downing Seneca East 61-45 Thursday. Carey (13-3 overall) and Calvert (11-5) both check in at 6-1 in the MAL and Mohawk is mathematically in the hunt at 5-2.
"I guess we've got a full-fledged mess now," Carey coach Phil Vaughn said. "We knew it was a must-win for us. We knew where the league was at - New Riegel's got one loss (too).
"Tonight was it. We just had to worry about tonight and concentrate tonight," he said. "The girls did that."
The primary detail was a tough man-to-man defense to start the game.
Calvert didn't have a field goal until Kate Brickner scored with 2:04 left in the first period. The Senecas didn't get their next basket until a little more than a minute into the second quarter and they managed just 4-of-24 from the field for the half.
"We didn't shoot the ball well the first quarter (2-of-11) or the first half," Calvert coach Tim Ritzler said. "Carey's defense was good. They didn't give us a lot of easy shots and what ones we did have, we didn't make them."
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-1 Tong was having her way inside on what would become a 27-point, 16-rebound night. The Carey senior had 11 points and five boards in the first quarter alone, when the Blue Devils opened an 18-6 lead.
"That came from a couple of things," Vaughn said of the Tong outburst. "She worked hard in the post. She wasn't satisfied just standing in one spot. She moved around and got some position off the moves. And our guards did a great job of feeding her."
"Part of that's probably my fault," Ritzler said. "We probably should have started out in a zone, packed it in and tried to make them beat us from the outside. I didn't do anything to help the girls in that respect. Once we went to the zone, I think we were able to slow her down a little."
Calvert came in as the league's top offensive team but in trailing 28-14 at the half, the Senecas were on a pace to fall 30 points short of their 58-points per game average.
"We started out strong with that early run," Vaughn said. "Even though we scored points early, I was really pleased with our defense.
"Brickner ended up coming on, but at halftime, we felt we had done a good job on her," he said. "She's the second-leading scorer in the league. She can hit the three, she drives and she's strong. (Megan) Funkhouser can shoot and Olivia Smith is one of the best athletes in the league. Defensively, at the half, we felt like we were in good shape."
That outlook changed some in the second half, when Calvert went to a zone defense with full-court pressure.
Brickner hit a couple 3-pointers and had eight points in the Senecas' 21-point third period, and she added 11 more points in the fourth. She finished with a team-high 21 points and seven rebounds.
"They did a great job of taking her away and she'll even tell you she missed some shots she wished she had back," Ritzler said. "But she stayed with it and she's aggressive scorer.
"I loved the way the girls fought back," he said. "The did a great job of executing the press, creating some turnovers and creating some pressure. That's what got us going in the second half."
Calvert trimmed the margin to 45-35 at the quarter break and pulled to within seven when, after Nicole Bickley (eight points, four rebounds) hit two foul shots, Smith turned a mid-court steal into a layup to make it 50-43.
But Carey kept the edge with a 25-for-35 effort from the foul line. Tong, Sydney Wentling (16 points) and Hannah Draper (13 points) were a combined 21-for-26 at the stripe. Calvert converted 17-of-29.
The Blue Devils have a slight edge in scheduling the rest of the way, with league games against Old Fort, North Baltimore and Fremont St. Joseph. North Baltimore has the best league mark of the three at 3-4.
Calvert is at Mohawk next week before hosting New Riegel and Lakota.