Old Fort claims key conference victory over Panthers

OLD FORT — Before going into his postgame comments, Old Fort coach Tim Ritzler was informed his team scored the first 15 points of the second quarter against St. Mary.

“I didn’t realize it was that big of a run,” he said.

It was so big that it proved to be the turning point in the Stockaders 43-31 win, a victory that tied them with the Panthers at the top of the conference. Behind a 17-point, 10-rebound performance from senior Morgan Miller, Old Fort improved to 9-4, 6-1 in the Sandusky Bay Conference River Division.

“We had a gameplan, and we really went after it,” Miller said. “My teammates always do a really good job of playing defense on the ball, and taking away the best players that they have, and we always get it done.

The Stockaders started slowly, going without a basket for the first 3 1/2 minutes of the first quarter.

The Panthers, meanwhile, had a strong beginning. When Maggie London connected on a short jumper with 5:15 left in the period, St. Mary led 10-1.

By the time the quarter ended, the Panthers held a 14-8 lead.

But the Panthers offense went cold in the second quarter, and the Stockaders took advantage.

Ritzler had his players press early, but the Panthers had beaten it with six field goals. So he made an adjustment.

“That was kind of the positive we took out of that quarter,” he said. “‘OK, let’s just play half-court defense, let’s sit down in the stance and make them shoot over us to score instead of trying to press and giving them easy looks.”

To stay the strategy worked would be an understatement. Not only did the Panthers miss their first six field goal attempts, but they struggled to hold onto the ball. During the scoreless stretch, St. Mary had nine turnovers.

“We didn’t make a lot of shots that I know we can make,” St. Mary coach Brian Ferber said. “We lost our composure a little bit.”

That also showed at the foul line. Old Fort found itself in the two-shot bonus in each half, and finished the game making 19 of 35 free throws. St. Mary was just 6 of 10.

In the 15-0 second quarter run alone, five points came from the stripe.

Old Fort took its first lead on an Ashlyn Magers’ stickback, then went up 23-14 when Magers buried a 3 with 1:01 left in the half.

St. Mary answered by going on a 7-0 run that extended into the third quarter. A pair of free throws by Ashley Huntley a minute into the second half made it 23-20, but then Old Fort again went on a run, and went to the fourth up 31-24.

Again, the Panthers responded. A layup by Kiersten Near was followed by a Trey McCarty 3, and the Stockaders suddenly were clinging to a 31-29 lead with seven minutes remaining in the fourth.

Needing a bucket, Old Fort got one from Kara Davidson. Her putback with 6:39 left pushed the lead back to four.

It was Old Fort’s only field goal of the fourth. But the Stockaders held the Panthers to just two points in the final 5 1/2 minutes, and finished the game going 7 of 8 from the foul line.

A big part of that was Miller. She went 5 of 6 from the stripe in the final 2:45, and finished 10 of 12 from the line overall.

“We needed to get the ball in her hands late,” Ritzler said.

Miller seemed fine with that.

“I try to be the leader for my team and knock down those foul shots,” she said. “And my teammates as well, they all knocked down shots.”

Magers had eight points, while Davidson and Laini Gillett each scored five.

St. Mary (6-5, 6-1) was paced by Annie Milkie, who had eight points while Near had five rebounds to go with four points. Tre McCarty had seven points and four steals.

It was a big win for Old Fort. But Ritzler said there’s still a long way to go.

“We took care of business tonight, but that doesn’t mean anything if we don’t take care of business the rest of the season,” he said. “We put ourselves in a position where we kind of control our own destiny. We’re tied with St. Mary’s, we’ll meet them again, last game of the season. But if we don’t take care of business the rest of the way, we may need help, and that was our goal tonight. Take care of business so we don’t need help the rest of the way. If we win out, we win the league.”