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Fort Frye knocks off D4 top-ranked Berne Union

SUGAR GROVE — Thursday’s non-conference game between a pair of unbeaten state-ranked teams — Berne Union and visiting Beverly Fort Frye — played out exactly the way it was supposed to, as far as the game coming down to the wire and being a one-possession game.

Usually, in high-profile games, it comes down to who executes better when the game is on the line. The Cadets were able to make a few more plays than the Rockets and that turned out to be the difference by the slightest of margins in a hard-fought 41-38 win.

It was a rematch of last year’s Division IV regional semifinal, a game Fort Frye won, which made Thursday’s game even more meaningful for the Rockets, who are ranked No. 1 in the state in the Division IV Associated Press poll. The Cadets, who moved up to Division III, are ranked No. 12 in the state.

“Compared to last year against them, I thought we came out more relaxed and was able to get the lead, which we never had last year against them,” Berne Union coach Matt Little said. “I thought we had an advantage inside and weren’t able to take advantage of that as much as I thought we would, and we missed some shots around the rim.

“It was back and forth, and we got down by seven in the fourth and found a way to get back in it and had a chance to win the game. I know the girls are upset and they wanted to win, but it doesn’t change our ultimate goal, which is to get prepared for the tournament. It is disappointing, but we did a lot of good things, we just didn’t get over the hump.”

Fort Frye, who struggled shooting from three-point range in the first half, making just 2-of-11, got hot in the second half from beyond the arc, especially in the third quarter as the Cadets quickly erased a four-point halftime deficit by connecting on four 3-pointers. They made 5-of-11 from three-point range in the second half.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Fort Frye (9-0) held a 37-32 lead and seemed to have all the momentum, but the Rockets (10-1) didn’t go down without a fight. Senior Bella Kline buried back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the margin to 39-38 with 2:46 left.

Berne Union had a chance to take the lead with a minute left but missed two shots. Forced to foul, Fort Frye’s Lexie Huck calmly sank a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left. The Rockets set up a play but didn’t get a shot off before the ball was knocked out of bounds with less than a second left and were forced to shoot a desperation three-point shot at the buzzer, but it was well short.

“We kind of figured it would come right down to the end, and I told the girls the last two days that this team wanted to beat us more than anything after we beat them last year,” Fort Frye coach Dan Liedtke said. “We knew we would be challenged by them and we were. They had a height advantage on us, but I thought a big key was us limiting their points inside.

“We don’t have a lot of size, but we have a lot of quickness, mainly because we have mostly guards. We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half, but with this group, I knew they would snap out of it and they did. They were focused in the second half and we have an experienced group and that paid off down the stretch.”

The Cadets jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead when Hannah Archer and Olivia Schneider connected on back-to-back 3s, but the Rockets reeled off eight unanswered points and was able to take a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

It went back and forth in the second quarter before the Rockets’ Baylee Mirgon drained a 3 to give the Rockets a 17-14 lead. Berne Union led 19-18 before Bella Kline drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Berne Union a 22-18 lead at halftime.

Fort Frye connected on four of its first six shots in the third quarter, and all four were from three-point range. Huck hit two 3s, while Archer and Kenzie Dalton connected on one each during that stretch to give the Cadets a 25-25 lead.

“We had a couple of breakdowns on defense,” Little said. “We talked about making them put the ball on the floor and we didn’t do that. We didn’t want to let them get set from the three-point line and they did more than few times and that turned out to be huge.”

Berne Union quickly regained the lead, thanks to Mirgon, who hit a 3 and scored inside, but the Cadets scored the last five points of the quarter to take a 32-30 lead into the fourth. Fort Frye pushed the lead to 39-32 midway through the fourth quarter to set the stage for the ending.

Sophia Kline led the Rockets with 10 points and seven rebounds and Mirgon finished with eight points. Bella Kline added nine points, seven rebounds and two assists, while Abbi Evans chipped in six points and three assists and Emily Blevins had five points and five assists.

Riley Medley came off the bench and led the way for the Cadets with 12 points and Huck finished with 10 points, including two 3s and went 4-for-4 at the free throw line.

Dalton added eight points, including a pair of 3s and she had five rebounds and Archer chipped in six points and three assists.

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