Lucius gets No. 500

NEW RIEGEL – Valentine’s Day is said to be a day of love, hugs and snuggling.

There were gifts and hugs exchanged before the Old Fort and New Riegel girls basketball game, as the host school honored Old Fort’s MacKenzie Gillett as well as the home squad’s Ebony Baynard, C’aira Conley and Abby Cassidy as it was the seniors final game at New Riegel game.

But no one likes people who are overbearing, clingy and smothering. Just ask Old Fort.

The Blue Jackets’ pressure defense blanketed Old Fort, which led to 29 turnovers and a 52-9 Midland Athletic League victory.

“You have to pleased with our defense. We got after it,” New Riegel coach Steve Lucius said. “We kind of continued what we did Tuesday: we played hard defense and close outs were solid. I’m pleased with that part.”

The victory also marked the 500th victory of Steve Lucius’ coaching career.

“I’m kind of glad it’s out of the way because the headlines after Tuesday’s game were about me not getting 500 instead of the great game that our kids played. That’s what the emphasis should have been on,” Lucius said. “I’m glad this is out of the way so our kids can focus on playing good, hard basketball.”

Old Fort coach Jennifer Miller said there’s a reason Lucius has won so many games.

“Steve Lucius has a great program. They’re a good team. They hustle. They’re fast. They sit down and play great defense,” Miller said. “They’re not the best offensive team, league-wise, but they’re at the top because their defense is great. That’s why he got his 500th win tonight.”

After losing three straight games, the Blue Jackets (17-5) put the foot on the gas pedal from the opening tip and didn’t look back.

“For us, we talked about, you never know but Carey could possibly lose tonight up at St. Joe so we approached it like an MAL championship game,” Lucius said. “These kids play hard. When we pick people up full court, that helps feed into our intensity and our defense. That’s what we need to do against people: get after them full court.”

But Carey did beat St. Joe, 62-29, leaving the Blue Jackets in a three-way tie for second place with Calvert and Mohawk.

Relentless pressure in the first half allowed New Riegel to jump ahead 22-0 midway through the second quarter, thanks to 12 Old Fort turnovers and 0 of 13 shooting by the Stockaders.

But Darby Walker ended the scoring drought with 3:05 to go in the second quarter, but 15 seconds later, Kara Scherger scored a bucket at the other end, making it 24-2.

“We’ve struggled with pressure all year,” Miller said. “We’re still learning. We have a lot of young girls out there. I’ve stressed to them all year that we need to be a team that when people look at us, they think of our defense. They say that offense sells tickets but defense wins games.”

On the night, Old Fort was 3 of 38 from field with Sara Bell leading the scoring effort with four points. Conversely, New Riegel was 22 of 59 from the field with Scherger leading all scorers with 11. All three New Riegel seniors found the scoring column as well: Baynard (2), Conley (4) and Cassidy (2).

“It’s nice they were able to get in and contributed (to the win),” Lucius said. “It’s nice to see them go out in their last home game like that.”

Lucius said becoming the 13th girls basketball coach in state history to reach the 500-win milestone was less him and more the others around him.

“It’s about the kids. You think about not only these kids but all the kids who played for us through the years,” Lucius said. “You also think about all the coaches, from fifth grade to the junior high to my assistants and all the people who have contributed through years. That’s what I think about.”