FREDERICKTOWN — It all came down to who had the most stamina.
For nearly 31 minutes, the host Fredericktown Freddies and the East Knox Bulldogs were locked in a classic Friday night Mid-Buckeye Conference duel.
A pair of fourth-quarter baskets by Fredericktown’s leading scorer, C.J. Ruhl, along with a key three-point play by teammate Garrett Gatton with 1:19 left in the game, helped the Freddies outlast the Bulldogs, 43-41.
There were times when it looked like one team would vanquish the other, only to let the opportunity slip away as the pendulum swung both ways in this game.
The Freddies jumped out to a quick seven-point lead only to see it evaporate in the waning minutes of the first half. With the Freddies up, 14-9, East Knox’s Luke Branstool hit a pair of jumpers to cut the deficit to one. The Freddies threw the ball out of bounds near the East Knox bench on their next possession. With 1:24 left in the half, Nick Kidd put the Bulldogs up, 16-14, with the first of his four 3-pointers for the game.
“That was when we started believing,” said East Knox coach Don McDaniel. “Our M.O. this year has been that we start out slow and then get stronger after halftime.”
“We had a couple of calls go against us,” said Fredericktown coach Kirk Manns. “Our rhythm got broken and we turned the ball over way too much at that point. We started missing some shots that we were making and, I thought, we lost our composure for a little while.”
The Bulldogs tried to finish off the Freddies at the start of the second half, surging ahead on two more 3-pointers by Kidd. When East Knox’s Michael Hedrick converted on a Fredericktown technical, that gave the Bulldogs their biggest lead of the game, 28-17.
That is when the Freddies awakened.
Fredericktown’s Andrew Newell dropped in a pair of 3-pointers to slice into the Bulldogs’ lead. Teammate Tyler Hathaway grabbed a steal and followed with a layup to bring to Freddies to within a point, 30-29, with two minutes left in the third quarter.
“We started playing together and moving the ball a lot better,” said Manns. “Our kids started to concentrate and started to compete a lot better. When you have a young team like we have, there are going to be peaks and valleys, and those peaks and valleys are going to be in the same quarter of the same game at times.”
“I don’t know, maybe success went to our head a little bit,” said McDaniel. “Maybe we eased up just a little bit. Coaching-wise, I didn’t make the right adjustment at the right time. The kids kept playing hard. We just let it slip away.”
“In the second half, our team really came back together,” said Ruhl. “We went off what they (East Knox) did. I mean, they were in a zone and we ran our zone offense and, when they went man, we ran our plays for man-to-man.”
Nick Stacy hit a bucket, near the end of the quarter, to give the lead back to the Freddies, 31-30.
Kidd hit another 3 to deadlock the game at 37 midway through the fourth. A minute later, Newell followed a Branstool foul shot with a bucket to give the Freddies a 40-37 lead with three minutes left in the game.
“They (Fredericktown) turned the defensive intensity up a little bit,” said McDaniel. “They doubled up on our post. It was a very, very physical game, and I think we got tired down toward the end.”
A pair of free throws by Nick Wear, who had been held scoreless most of the night, put the Bulldogs to within one, 40-39, with 2:47 to go.
The Freddies got the ball back and, with 1:19 to go, Gatton hit an inside jumper and drew a foul from Wears. The ensuing free throw put the Freddies ahead, 43-39, en route to a 43-41 win.
“Honestly, This was a big building experience for us because we have a lot of young guys on this team,” said Ruhl. “To have a close game like that and come out with the win really builds their confidence. We’ve been in close games all year and we haven’t won some of them, but we won tonight. Thomas (Hinkle) and I are showing the younger guys the right way to do things and, hopefully, they’ll learn off of us.”
“I’m pleased with the way that our kids fought back from a double-digit deficit,” said Manns. “We really executed well in the last minutes of the third quarter. We played hard defense and I thought that fatigue might set in by the fourth quarter.”
The MBC season is less than half over and the rest of the year promises more close struggles like this one. Manns has an idea of the kind of team that will prevail.
“Teams with experience have an edge and they will have legs in the fourth quarter,” said Manns, “They know what it takes to compete and they know what it takes to be successful in this conference.”