Fort fights back: Cadets rally to beat River in district semifinal

MIKE MORRISON The Marietta Times Fort Frye’s Karlee Ross drives for a layup during a high school girls district semifinal basketball game against River Wednesday at Meadowbrook High School in Byesville.

BYESVILLE — With the threat of elimination staring them right in the face in the closing minutes of Wedneday night’s Division IV district semifinal against River, the Fort Frye Cadets found a way.

Trailing by nine points midway through the final period, Fort Frye went on a 15-2 run to stun the Pilots 38-34 and punch their ticket to Saturday afternoon’s district championship game.

Timely perimeter shooting by lone Cadet senior Morgan Borich, gritty defense by freshman Kenzie Dalton and clutch free throw shooting by sophomore Karlee Ross down the stretch helped key the dramatic win as the Fort avenged a double-overtime loss in December to the Pilots.

The win spoiled a 23-point effort by Pilot senior Lauren Flannery and came with more than half of the Cadet rotation feeling under the weather.

“Coming in here we had three girls that were extremely sick. We came over here and had a great practice on Monday and felt really good about everything and then three of them wake up so sick they could hardly practice,” said Fort Frye head coach Dan Liedtke. “The grit of these girls was incredible to be down that many points and when we started making that run I could see the look in their eyes.”

Despite being under the weather the Cadets managed to take a 13-12 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Kiersten Kesselring, but the Pilot pressure defense began to cause Fort Frye big trouble in the second period.

Fort Frye committed nine turnovers alone in the second period as River won the quarter 12-4 to open up a seven-point lead (24-17) at the break.

River scored the final eight points of the half with Flannery scoring 14 of her points in the first 16 minutes of the game.

“Their pressure really got to us. We worked against that but it was like we didn’t work against it at all,” said Liedtke. “We were playing really passive.”

Fort Frye got a 3-pointer from Olivia Schneider to open the second half but Flannery scored consecutive buckets on a driving lay-up and a turnover to push the lead to eight before Kesselring scored an inside bucket in the closing seconds to trim the lead to 28-22 heading to the final period.

A Borich free throw opened the final period for the Cadets before Flannery flexed her muscles once again by scoring back-to-back field goals to give River its biggest lead of the game at 32-23 with four minutes to play in the game.

Flannery scored all but one of her team’s points in the second half but the Cadets got contributions from nearly everyone as they began to make their dramatic comeback.

Borich got things going in the right direction when she splashed in a triple to cut the lead to six and a pair of free throws from freshman Hannah Archer whittled the River lead to four with 2:31 to play.

Flannery made the front end of a one-and-one but missed the second and Borich answered by knocking down her second triple of the final period from beyond the top of the key.

“Morgan hit those shots right when we needed them but she is a senior and she doesn’t want to quit playing,” said Liedtke. “I’ve seen her take that shot and I felt good that it was going in.”

On the inbounds play Dalton came up with the defensive play of the game for Fort Frye when she picked Flannery clean to come up with a steal in the backcourt and finished with a lay-up to knot the game at 33-33.

River came up empty on its next possession and the Cadets jumped in front for good when Archer connected on a runner inside the top of the key with just over a minute to play, much to the delight of the vocal Fort Frye crowd in attendance.

The Pilots cut the lead in half on a free throw by Alli Long but her second one was no good.

River forced the Cadets into their lone turnover of the final period but came up empty on their attempt to re-take the lead and Ross came down with a huge rebound for the Cadets before drawing a foul.

Ross missed her first attempt but the Pilots committed a lane violation and the Cadet sophomore made them pay in a huge way by converting both free throws to give Fort Frye a 37-34 lead.

River once again had the opportunity to tie but Flannery’s 3-point attempt was no good as were a couple of put-back attempts by the Pilots and Ross once again grabbed the rebound to seal the deal on a huge Cadet comeback win.

“We had all kinds of opportunities. I’m just not sure if all of that pressure wore us out,” said River head coach Rick Isaly. “Basketball is a sport where the team that scores the most points and makes the right decisions is usually the one that wins the game and Fort Frye is the one that did that tonight.”

River, which finished its season with an outstanding 20-5 record, got seven points from Long in addition to Flannery’s 23 in her final game as a Pilot.

Borich was the only Cadet to reach double figures with 11 while Archer and Dalton added seven points apiece.

The Cadets (21-4) will now move on to Saturday afternoon’s district final against Shadyside at a site to be determined at 2 p.m.

“It’s been a while since we’ve won a game like this that we hope gets us over the hump,” said Liedtke. “We lost a game like this to them (River) in double-overtime that we thought we could have won and the girls really wanted to play them again.”