CAREY - To suggest Mark Hill and Brad Bannister are unsung members of the Old Fort basketball ensemble might not quite be accurate.
But there is no question the two have spent much of the year providing a soft accompaniment to the booming sounds of Dalton and Hunter Perry and Cole Davidson.
The Hill-Bannister combo reached a crescendo here Friday night with 28 points, 12 rebounds and four assists to pad the Stockaders' most balanced offensive effort of the year. They needed it to withstand Carey's challenge and post a 78-73 win.
The win puts Old Fort (18-1, 9-0) on the brink of a Midland Athletic League championship with games at Mohawk and home against New Riegel the next two weeks. The Blue Jackets and Fremont St. Joseph remain one game back in the standings.
"We knew this one would be very tough because Carey's been playing very well," Old Fort coach Eric Hoover said. "What we want to do is control our destiny. I told them (afterward) we've got two league championship games left - one to clinch a share and one to try to win it outright."
The Stockaders are in position to do so because four starters finished in double figures with the fifth checking in with nine points, and they had a dominant rebounding effort, particularly in the first half.
Equally important was an ability to survive a couple of Blue Devil blitzes, one to start the game and one to close.
Bryan Powers hit a couple 3-pointers and scored 10 of his 20 points in the first period to help Carey to leads of 9-2 and 12-4.
But Old Fort countered with a 14-3 rebounding advantage for the quarter in rallying for a 22-18 lead at the break. Hill had five of those rebounds to go with six points and Bannister added six of his 13-point total.
"They both had good games," Hoover said.
"Matt did a great job in the first half on the offensive glass and he moved well without the ball and got himself in position to hit some easy ones," Hoover said of Hill, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
"Those are points you don't count on," Carey coach CJ Kin said. "Their kids stepped up. We changed defenses and maybe tried to cheat a little off Bannister a little bit and help inside but they hit shots."
That's when Old Fort's offense is at its best.
"Hunter, Cole and Dalton are going to demand a lot of attention, and Matt hit a lot of those free throw jumpers for us," Hoover said. "It makes it very hard to guard us if he's making those shots."
Proof of that came in the third quarter when Old Fort seemingly took command.
After senior Justin Meek, who led Carey with 23 points and seven assists, scored in the lane to trim Old Fort's halftime lead to 38-37, the Stockaders went on a 15-3 run over a four-minute span.
With Dalton Perry (23 points, 12 rebounds) now dominating inside and Hunter Perry (18 points, four assists) hitting a series of jumpers, Old Fort led by 16 at 57-41 with 2:27 left in the quarter. Davidson's 3-pointer with three seconds left, one of three he hit for nine points, made it 61-48 for the stretch run.
It was Carey doing most of the running after two Hunter Perry goals pushed the margin to 17 points to start the fourth.
Powers made four shots, two of them 3-pointers, Zach Boes (12 points, seven boards) added a trey and a short jumper and Jared Wentling (12 points, eight rebounds) hit from the baseline in a 17-6 run that cut it to 71-65 with 1:51 to go.
Boes' 3-pointer with 31 seconds left pulled Carey to within three and after Dalton Perry scored off a Davidson press-breaker pass, Meek drove for a three-point play to make it 75-73 with 13 ticks left.
Bannister then hit two foul shots and Dalton Perry one to seal it.
"We knew they weren't going to quit." Hoover said. "They're a very good offensive team and they really got hot there at the end of the fourth quarter. They made a bunch of tough shots."
"This was a game tonight where the kids put everything on the line," Kin said. "I think there's been games we haven't played as hard as we could or we went into lulls but tonight, after the game, I could see in their eyes that everyone put it on the line."
But the finish ultimately went to Old Fort.