Brickner has the answer for Old Fort

OLD FORT – Old Fort was only a few plays away Tuesday from scoring an upset win over Calvert. The two teams can potentially meet again next week in a sectional final. Old Fort coach Jennifer Miller might have some plans to turn those plays in her team’s favor, but she’s not letting the cat out of the bag.

“I can’t tell you that,” she said. “(Calvert coach) Tim Ritzler reads the paper.”

But more often than not, the main reason those plays turned Calvert’s way was Kate Brickner.

The Calvert senior scored 31 points and went 8 for 10 from the foul line down the stretch in the fourth quarter to deliver her team a 55-45 win.

“Late in the season like this, players start looking forward to the tournament a little bit,” Ritzler said. “We’re out of the MAL race with Carey being undefeated. I was glad that we came out, we came focused ready to play. We wanted to win this game and I think the girls did an excellent job coming out and making the plays when we needed to make them.

“Old Fort kept making runs, kept making runs, kept making runs. But we settled down, got a bucket when we needed it; we got a few stops in a row when we needed them.”

After falling behind by 11 at halftime, Old Fort got within a point of the Senecas several times in the second half, including three times in the fourth quarter. But each time Calvert came back with an answer.

“We just had to stop them defensively,” Brickner said. “Stay focused, take care of the ball and execute offensively.”

A basket by Sara Bell got Old Fort within one for the final time with 3:31 to play, but Calvert got clutch baskets from Nicole Bickley and Lindsay Bickley down the stretch, and from Taylor Ritzler and Brickner at the foul line to seal the win.

“We made some mistakes and let them get on a little run there where they started playing their game,” coach Ritzler said. “They were able to fast break a little bit, get some easy layups. They were hustling, playing hard. We came down, we had good possessions. We worked the ball around, got good shots that we wanted and were able to make them.”

After the game, Miller said she was happy with how her team kept the pressure on Calvert and kept fighting back.

“They battled, they came out and played hard,” she said of her team. “They never let up and that’s a good thing to see. Even if they did jump up a little, we came right back at them. We got shots up when we needed to. In the end, it didn’t work out quite like we needed it to.”

The game went back and forth through the first quarter and a half, until Brickner caught fire midway through the second. A Sammy Miller layup put Old Fort up 16-13, but from there Calvert went on a 15-1 run to end the quarter. In that stretch Brickner hit three 3-pointers, including one in the closing seconds of the half to give Calvert a 28-17 lead at the break.

“I was patient in the first quarter and I was waiting to get my shots off,” she said. “When I did, I knocked them down so I was happy about that.”

Coach Ritzler said the early part of the game was spent sending different sets at Old Fort’s defense to see what worked best to get Brickner free.

“I think we were just feeling them out defensively, we knew how aggressive they’d be,” he said. “We were seeing the way they were playing some different things. There at the end we ran some of our plays that we had for Kate. We were able to run off some screens, get her some open looks. I think that was kind of the big thing, early in the game we were running some plays, seeing how they’d defend the screens. Once we knew we’d have an opportunity, we went with it and Kate hit some big shots for us right there before the half.”

Coach Miller gave Brickner credit for hitting shots, and gave her team a reminder that a good shooter will take advantage of any opening they’re given.

“We told them, it doesn’t matter if your up 50 you never back off on defense,” she said. “They knew that she’s a good shooter. The one was, I mean good for her, the one was a fadeaway 3 from 3 feet behind the arc. That’s a good play. I talked to the girls, too, about those good players, you cannot give them any space. That’s what a good player does.”

With the regular season winding down, focus begins to shift towards the tournaments that start Tuesday. Brickner said her team is ready for a long run.

“I have confidence in where we’re at right now,” she said. “I think we can make a real nice run. We’re peaking right where we need to as a team.”