OLD FORT - After watching teammate Korey Williams make basket after basket this week in practice, New Riegel's Brandyn Reinhart made what turned out to be a prophetic remark.
"He even mentioned it," New Riegel coach Todd Aichholz said. "[Reinhart said] 'If Korey comes out and shoots like he did in practice this week, we're gonna be all right.'"
And they were.
With a piece of the Midland Athletic League championship on the line and in front of an intense, near-capacity crowd in Old Fort, Williams kept making big shots. He hit eight from the floor, including three 3s on the way to a team-best 21 points and a 73-61 Blue Jackets' win.
"He always shoots great in practice. It's just sometimes he's not shooting as well in games," said Reinhart, who had a big game himself with 16 points and nine rebounds. "We know it's just a matter of time, a game where he's gonna go off, and tonight he went off and it's just great. Great timing."
Williams said his success was all set up by his teammates.
"I was able to answer because my teammates got me open," he said. "If (Old Fort) was even face-guarding me in a possession, they'd set a screen for me; the next thing you know I'd be wide open."
The result of Friday night's game in Old Fort, combined with Fremont St. Joe's 57-42 win in Carey, means that three teams - the Stockaders, Blue Jackets and Streaks - all win a piece of the MAL title.
For New Riegel (19-3, 10-1), it is the fourth-consecutive league title it has won or shared. Only one other school - Old Fort from 1994-1997 - has pulled that off in the MAL.
The Stockaders, who came into the game 19-2 and ranked eighth in Division IV, missed out on a chance for the outright league title. Friday marked their first conference loss this season after 10 straight wins.
"It was the same thing all night long," said Old Fort coach Eric Hoover. "(New Riegel) made a lot of clutch shots. They played, the guys that people like to call 'others' for them, stepped up."
New Riegel led 15-14 at the first stop. Old Fort's Hunter Perry opened the second quarter with a jumper to give Old Fort a 16-15 edge, but the Blue Jackets came right back with a Williams jumper.
Seven minutes and thirty-five seconds remained in the second quarter, but Old Fort never led again.
From then on, a pattern emerged. New Riegel would get hot and bump its lead out, often to double digits. Old Fort would respond and get within striking distance, but never quite catch up before the cycle started over.
Nick Wank had a big second quarter for the Blue Jackets. His 3-pointer from the left wing gave them a 20-16 lead, and his three-point play with 3:36 left before the half put NR up 33-25.
Wank had 12 points in the first half, finishing with 14.
Old Fort recovered, and Hunter Perry's bucket sent the Stockaders to the half down 39-34.
"We knew we had to come out aggressive," Aichholz said of the first half. "Old Fort is so aggressive (as) a team, offensively and defensively. We knew they were gonna come out with a lot of passion tonight, a lot of energy and excitement. We knew we had to match that. I think you saw that from the tip."
Reinhart opened the third quarter with a three-point play to put New Riegel up eight. It started a Blue Jackets run that saw their lead reach its highest point - 13 points after a Williams layup made it 53-40 with 3:29 left in the quarter.
Old Fort cut the lead to 56-46 by the start of the fourth.
The final quarter started out like a nightmare for New Riegel.
Old Fort's press started giving the Blue Jackets problems, and the Stockaders cashed in on some turnovers to get right back into things. A layup by Hunter Perry was followed by two OF free throws, and then a layup by Cole Davidson made it 56-52 with 6:47 remaining in regulation.
"We turned up the intensity on our defense and went to a different press," Hoover said. "Crowd got into it and we really had them on our heels."
After getting within four, Old Fort forced another turnover, only to give the ball right back.
"With the momentum, that's big, just to have that possession," Hoover said.
Very big, because New Riegel started a game-defining run right afterward.
Jake Dryfuse was fouled, and split a pair of free throws for the Blue Jackets. But Wank rebounded the miss and fed the ball to a wide open Reinhart for an easy layup. New Riegel's lead was back up to 59-52; 5:51 remained.
After another stop, Wank hit a jumper of his own, which was followed by a Dryfuse basket with 4:58 left.
"You get a great team like Old Fort, you know they're going to make runs," Aichholz said. "We knew coming in they were going to make runs, and they'll make runs on anyone they play. And we're no different. We just talked about, when they make that run, holding our composure. I thought we did a good job of when they got it down to four, of holding our composure."
"We played from behind almost the whole night," Hoover said. "We couldn't get control of the game. They didn't allow it."
Dryfuse had a big second half, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the final 16 minutes. He also had five rebounds.
"You can talk about Brandyn's night, you can talk about Korey's night, you can talk about Nick Wank and Jake Dryfuse," Aichholz said. "Andrew Hohman... this is definitely a team victory. The guys came off the bench, played great tonight... definitely a team victory."
Dalton Perry led Old Fort with 23 points and six rebounds. Hunter Perry had 19 points, Davidson had 10.
"I told (my players) after the game, it's just like any other game," Hoover said. "There's more people, title implications and all that. We had a share [of the MAL] that no matter what happened tonight people couldn't take from us, and we earned that through our play all year."