Regional champs: Fort Frye girls down Johnstown in regional final, headed to state

LOGAN – Since the four seniors on the Fort Frye High girls’ basketball team were in elementary school, they have been surrounded by a lot of hype.

“People have really been saying since we were in sixth grade that we could have a chance (to go to state) because we were such a great team and we’ve been playing together for so long,” said senior Taylor Buchanan.

In a Division III regional final matchup against Johnstown at Logan High School Saturday, the Lady Cadets fulfilled those expectations by claiming a 58-43 victory and a berth in the state tournament.

“I had it in the back in of my mind about this team going to state someday,” said Fort Frye head coach Dan Liedtke. “I really felt that they would have the opportunity. When I took the job, it came to my mind how bad I would love to see those girls get to the ‘Final Four.’

“I’m just so happy for these girls. This group’s worked really hard, and this was one of their big goals.”

Early in the game against the Johnnies, it appeared as though the Cadets might run away with it. Fort Frye led by as many as 13 early in the second quarter, but Johnstown would rally to cut the deficit to just four points by halftime. The Cadets used a 15-10 third quarter and a 13-7 fourth quarter to put it out of reach.

“It’s pretty thrilling,” said senior Deidra Combs. “We’re all on cloud nine right now.”

Fellow senior Micayla Hupp added “I’m just so happy. It’s like a dream we all had. It’s just amazing.”

Fort Frye (25-3) held nearly every statistical advantage in the game, going 21-for-50 (42 percent) from the floor compared to Johnstown’s 16-for-49 (33 percent) and also grabbing 30 rebounds to 27 for the Johnnies (23-5). Both teams had trouble with ball security, as Johnstown committed 20 turnovers while Fort Frye had 19 miscues.

“I think we got a little rattled by their press,” Buchanan said.

“That’s one thing they did well. But at halftime, we calmed back down, and kind of got a new plan. I moved up on the press, and other people went to different spots. We got it back under control.”

Senior Morgan Liedtke paced the Cadets in scoring with 16 points. She also contributed eight rebounds and three steals.

“This is so exciting for everyone and the community,” Morgan Liedtke said. “It’s something we’ve worked for for a long time.”

Buchanan added 11 points while Hupp chipped in with 10. Combs, who tallied eight points, led the team with nine rebounds and five steals.

Johnstown’s Paige Cannon poured in a game-high 24 points to go along with seven rebounds and five takeaways. Makenzie Spang led everyone with 13 boards.

Midway through the opening period, a 3-pointer by Morgan Liedtke and layups by Combs and junior Brooke Borich gave Fort Frye a 13-5 lead. Morgan Liedtke would score the Cadets’ next four points to stretch the lead to 17-7 before a layup by Johnstown’s Marissa Sheets cut it to 17-9 to close out the quarter.

Following consecutive baskets by Buchanan, Morgan Liedtke made one-of-two foul shots to extend Fort Frye’s advantage to 22-9 midway through the second stanza. Cannon then hit a pair of freebies, but was countered by Hupp’s mid-range jumper to maintain the 13-point lead. From there, the Johnnies would go on a 15-6 run, fueled by nine points from Cannon, to make the score 30-26 at halftime.

The two squads went back and forth to start the second half.

Spang opened the third period with a bucket before Morgan Liedtke answered with a trey. Then, after a basket by Cannon, Hupp scored Fort Frye’s next six points, followed by a long 2-pointer from Borich to put the Cadets up nine.

Borich and Buchanan each hit a basket early in the final quarter to make the score 49-36. Later, after a pair of free throws by Combs put the Cadets up 51-38, Cannon scored five straight points to get the Johnnies within striking distance at 51-43. Buchanan then hit a layup followed by two free throws from Combs to make it a 12-point game with 1:22 remaining in the contest.

Coming out of a Johnstown timeout, Hupp converted a pair from the line and then Buchanan hit one-of-two to secure the victory.

The win gives the Fort Frye girls’ basketball program its first ever regional championship in school history.

The triumph was special for another reason for Dan Liedtke, whose daughters Morgan and Megan Liedtke each play for the Lady Cadets.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Dan Liedtke said, “I wanted my dad to see his grandchildren go to the ‘Final Four.'”

That wish will be granted Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus when Fort Frye takes on Africentric in a state semifinal contest.

Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Last season, Africentric eliminated the Cadets in the regional tournament, but Fort Frye is ready for round two.

“We’re gonna get ourselves prepared for it,” Dan Liedtke said. “That’s one of those games where they’re a different kind of team to play. I think with the way that these girls have been taught to do things, I think we can definitely be able to challenge them. Hopefully that can happen.”