Perry powers Stockaders to MAL title

NEW RIEGEL – John Brueggemeier had the data.

More than that, during the past 50 years – 40 of them directly associated with Old Fort athletics and another 10 as a more-than-interested bystander – he’s seen that data take form.

And much like a proud father, he wanted to share.

“We won the first (Midland Athletic League) championship and the last one,” Brueggemeier said after the Stockaders disposed of New Riegel 85-53 here Friday night. “And six of them in between.”

The latest one will be as memorable as any. After having watched five seniors graduate from last year’s MAL tri-champion, including one of the all-time leading scorers in Dalton Perry and the all-time leading 3-point shooter in Cole Davidson, Old Fort was rated third in the preseason poll.

But from the opening league night, when Hunter Perry set the new MAL single-game scoring standard with 55 points at North Baltimore, to the finish, the Stockaders (17-5, 10-0 MAL) have been perfect in league play. And this time, they share with no one.

Compared to that epic performance, Perry was a little off his game Friday, not that anyone would have noticed. The senior guard knocked down six 3-pointers, a couple of them from NBA range, on the way to 41 points. He also had a game-high 14 rebounds and seven assists.

Classmate Maison Steyer and freshman Hootie Cleveland added 14 points apiece.

“I don’t know if anybody could have predicted it,” Old Fort coach Eric Hoover said. “I thought we could be better than most people thought, which I thought would be to our advantage. I knew it would depend on a couple things – on how the young guys who played JV last year stepped up and they stepped up and continued to improve as the year went on.

“The seniors stepped up and worked hard at improving their game and believing in each other,” he said. “It just proves what’s possible.”

Cleveland, who may well own Davidson’s long-range records before he’s done, hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter as Old Fort opened leads of 12-0 and 15-3. New Riegel was unable to get on the board until Travis Williams’ trey with 2:28 left in the first period.

The Blue Jackets narrowed the margin to 17-11 by the quarter break and when Jake Dryfuse (14 points, 11 rebounds) nailed a couple 3-pointers from the left corner, New Riegel was within two at 19-17 with 6:35 left in the half.

But then Old Fort took control with a 24-4 run. Perry had 11 points and Steyer had eight in the burst that put the Stockaders on top for good.

“They’re a team that’s obviously playing well and we’re a team that’s struggling,” New Riegel coach Dave Losey said. “We’re at the other end of the spectrum and when you can’t hit a shot for six minutes – we had two layups, four free throws – it wasn’t like we were missing tough shots. We couldn’t get a basket. We couldn’t break the seal.

“We played pretty well for the first 12 minutes of the game and then they blitzed us,” he said.

“I’d like to give some credit to our defense for that,” Hoover said. “Some people might think we don’t play it. You look at the league defensively and we’re not up there in holding people to the lowest points, but we force over 20 turnovers a game.”

The Stockaders did just that in getting 21 turnovers from the Blue Jackets (7-15, 5-5), and that played a role in an offense that went 32 for 61 from the field.

“We knew coming into the season we were projected, like, third or fourth, but I told my guys, ‘We can do this,'” said senior Brad Bannister, who contributed nine points, five steals and five assists. “I’m not an offensive guy; I’m mostly defense. My job is to look for Hunter or look for Maison or look for Hootie. But I just love these guys. They’re just great.”

Perry’s confidence, meanwhile, was not limited to action on the floor.

“I honestly did see (a championship) coming,” he said. “I just thought we worked hard. I never thought we’d be as good as last year, which is true. We’re not as good as last year. But we come and play hard every game and we work hard in practice. It pays off.”

Hoover, an Old Fort grad, has a special appreciation for the title as well.

“It’s awesome. I’ve grown up as part of the MAL. It’s all I know,” he said. “I was in second grade when we won the first one in ’85-86 and I was a part of some of our championships there in the mid-’90s.

“To win this last one, it really means a lot,” he said. “It’s something we’ve been talking to them about the whole year and how important it is to leave your mark in history.”

The first mark and last mark belong to Old Fort. And if there are any questions, check with John Brueggemeier. He can also tell you about the six in between.