GAHANNA — This was one boys basketball game that the Fredericktown Freddies won’t soon forget.
Against the Heath Bulldogs, the Freddies put on one of their best performances of the season and brought home a Division III Central District Sectional title with a 67-62 overtime victory at Gahanna Lincoln High School. Fredericktown, which led each of the first three quarters, had to withstand a valiant comeback by Heath to force overtime, and then made the shots it needed to win.
“This feels great,” said Fredericktown senior Andrew Newell. “We did what we had to do. We had to play tough defense if we were going to be successful at all tonight. ... This will boost our confidence a lot. We didn’t have a real good regular season, but this is great.”
The Freddies shot better than 50 percent (21-of-39) for the game, with half of those attempts coming from one player — junior Thomas Hinkle. Hinkle went 9-of-21 from the field, and hit 13-of-18 at the free-throw line to finish with a career-high 31 points. Fredericktown was 21-of-30 at the line for the game.
“This was a huge win,” said Hinkle. “We knew coming in that Heath had a highly explosive offense, and we’ve had an up-and-down season. It took a team effort.
“We finally figured out what we need to do to be successful, and we kept doing that. If it wasn’t there, we would run it again because next time it might be. We stayed with it and got things going tonight.”
Right from the start, Fredericktown played its style to perfection. The Freddies deliberately slowed the game down to help limit the Bulldogs’ abilities in transition.
“It was really important for us to take the fight to them because if we didn’t, there wouldn’t have been any chance for us to be successful,” said Newell.
Each team traded buckets in the first quarter before a pair of scores by Hinkle gave the Freddies a four-point lead with 39 seconds left. Lavelle Spivey made it a two-points game after one quarter (13-11), beating the buzzer with a layup. Hinkle had eight of his team’s points.
“We weren’t going to back away from our game plan,” said Hinkle. “We kept getting the ball in, and I kept attacking the rim. I kept going after it.”
Hinkle scored a jumper to open the second quarter, but Heath responded with a 6-1 spurt to take its first lead of the game, 17-16, with 4:40 to go. That lead was short-lived, however, as Fredericktown closed the quarter with seven straight points, including five by Newell, and led by six, 23-17, at the break.
“I thought there were two things coming out of the gate that we had to do tonight; No. 1, we had to control their transition,” said Fredericktown coach Kirk Manns. “Our defensive transition was pretty good. I’m not sure we gave up more than one bucket in transition. That was a focus of ours because we knew that if we were going to be successful against this team, we had to take away the transition. The second thing we had to do was stay under control when they pressured us. I don’t think the pressure bothered us.”
Heath tried to get back into the game in the third quarter, but the Freddies managed to outscore the Bulldogs, 7-5, in the first two-plus minutes. Heath finally got on track, putting together a 9-2 run to pull within one, 32-31, with 3:01 to go. Fredericktown responded, however, with buckets by Hinkle and Newell to finish the quarter on a 7-2 spurt. Newell hit a 3-pointer to keep the lead at six, 39-33, after three quarters.
That momentum carried over into the fourth quarter as Hinkle and Tyler Hathaway provide five more points to open up an 11-point Fredericktown lead. That’s where things changed, however.
Heath’s Alex Van Dine started to bring his team back single handily, hitting a pair of 3-pointers to start a 15-4 Bulldog run. Van Dine added two jumpers, Jacob Alley hit a 3 and Spivey scored a layup to tie the game at 48 with 3:39 left in regulation. Newell had both of Fredericktown’s baskets in that stretch.
“Their penetration really started to hurt us, and their penetration opened up the three-point shot,” Manns said. “Guys started helping a little more than we should have. ... We were lucky during that stretch because we were able to get a couple of easy buckets ourselves. They upped the pace of the game, and their penetration was really breaking us down.”
“This was the game we expected them to play,” said Hinkle. “They started lighting it up, and that was a wake-up call for us. ... They started making some tough shots and had the momentum.”
“We needed to get some defensive, and we didn’t,” said Newell of Heath’s run.
Hathaway hit a 3-pointer to give Fredericktown the lead on its next possession, but Heath outscored the Freddies, 6-2, in the next 2 1/2 minutes to go back up one, 54-53. Hathaway, who had just missed the front end of a 1-and-1, then stole the ball away and was fouled trying to score, sending him to the free-throw line with 23.9 second left. He made 1-of-2 to tie the game, and Van Dine missed a runner with one second left to send the game to overtime.
“If we would have made our foul shots, we wouldn’t have been in overtime,” said Manns. “We were fortunate they missed the shot at the buzzer to get there. Then I felt it was anybody’s game at that point.”
In overtime, Fredericktown struck first, scoring two free throws from Garrett Gatton. Spivey answered, but the Freddies’ defense was too much. Back-to-back steals led to points on the offensive end, and Fredericktown converted 9-of-14 free throws in the final 1:40 to seal the win. Hinkle was 7-of-10 in the stretch.
“In this game, there wasn’t really any breathing room,” said Newell. “Getting that lead (in overtime) gave us some confidence when we needed it.”
In addition to his 31 points, Hinkle had 13 rebounds. Newell finished with 19 points one 7-of-10 shooting. He also had four assists. Hathaway had nine points, two steals and two assists.
Fredericktown was forced to play without C.J. Ruhl for much of the first three quarters after he picked up three fouls in the first 1:15 of play. When he returned midway through the third quarter, however, Ruhl picked up just more foul and provided valuable minutes.
“It was tough because Curtis got three fouls real quick,” said Manns. “We got great minutes out of Ty Fox and Justin Snyder in that first half because we had to play with (Ruhl). We were able to go full strength in the second half and bring C.J. back out onto the floor, and it was just enough to get us over the hump.”
With the win, Fredericktown advances to the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Columbus for the Division III Central District Semifinal on Tuesday night. They will play Bishop Hartley, who defeated Johnstown, 65-44, on Friday night. Tip-off is set for 6:15 p.m.
“We will have the same expectations we do every game,” Manns said. “We are still trying to get better. We’ve got one senior. We are getting better, but it is a young team this year, and they are growing and learning. We get to practice a few more days now and have a chance to improve a little more.”
“We are going to go in there and put up a fight,” Newell said. “This is our first time being there, so we will do our best and play hard.”