COLUMBUS — The Fairgrounds Coliseum at the Ohio Expo Center can be an intimidating place. Just ask the Fredericktown Freddies.
Playing Bishop Hartley in a Division III Central District semifinal, the Freddies came out a little flat and paid the price despite a strong second half. The Hawks, behind Ben Siefert’s 23 points, knocked off Fredericktown, 48-40, on Tuesday night.
Fredericktown struggled through the first half of play, hitting just 6-of-18 shots. Bishop Hartley, playing in the district semifinal for the fourth straight season, went 10-of-23 in the first half, including a 6-of-12 performance by Siefert.
“We weren’t very efficient to start the game offensively, and we weren’t very efficient in the third quarter when we had a chance to make up some ground,” said Fredericktown coach Kirk Manns. “If we were more efficient to start with, it would have been a different game. I thought we did a good job defensively. Obviously, Siefert is a very good player. I thought our kids did a good job of slowing them down.”
The Freddies scored first on a jumper by C.J. Ruhl, but the Hawks ripped off the next nine points over the next two minutes. Ruhl added another two jumpers to close the gap to three, but a 3-pointer by Siefert put the lead at six, 12-6, after one quarter.
Siefert hit another 3 just seconds into the second period to start Hartley on a 10-2 run. A layin by Geoffrey Whitehead with 4:37 on the clock opened up an 11-point lead, but Fredericktown trimmed the lead to nine after five points from Thomas Hinkle. Siefert hit his fourth 3-pointer of the first half to help offset Hinkle’s outburst, and scored the last three points of the quarter to give his team a 25-13 halftime lead.
The lead grew to 14 after Andy Losinski laid in a bucket just 26 seconds into the third quarter. Something was different with the Freddies, however. Ruhl, who had guarded Siefert the entire game, clamped down and didn’t allow him another bucket from the field. That change helped Fredericktown go on a 10-4 run to end the quarter, and cut the lead to eight, 31-23.
“We just tried to focus on (Siefert); I think he got a little tired and that helped,” said Manns. “C.J. has a lot of experience and has guarded a lot of good players. I knew he wasn’t going to quit or back down.”
The Freddies, playing inspired, cut the lead six on two occasions early in the fourth quarter and had the opportunity to narrow it more after a steal by Andrew Newell with five minutes to play. They couldn’t capitalize, however, and Hartley went on a 9-2 run over the next four minutes to solidify a 42-29 lead.
“We cut it to six and had the ball, but we weren’t able to keep it up,” Manns said. “We turned it over and they got the lead back out to 10. From there, we were in catch up mode.”
Free throws came into play from there. Hinkle and Newell each hit a pair for Fredericktown to cut the lead back to nine, and a 3-pointer by Ruhl eventually cut the lead to eight, 44-36, with 44.7 seconds left, but that was as close as the Freddies got. Siefert went to the free-throw line on three separate occasions, hitting a pair each time. A layup by Newell with 12 seconds left made the final 48-40 score.
“We talked about staying the course and believing in each other,” said Manns. “We needed to go out and cut into the lead a little at a time, which we were able to do. I’m very proud of our kids and our effort. Three weeks ago, our team was at a cross roads. It would have been very easy to quit because things weren’t going well for us. They could have thrown the towel in, but they didn’t. They continued to get better and better, and finished the season on a very high note.”
Hinkle finished with 16 points to lead Fredericktown. Ruhl had 11 points, four rebounds, two steals and two assists before fouling out. In addition, Newell, the Freddies only senior, added 11 points, four rebounds, four steals and one assist in his last game.
“Every guy we have in that locker room returns with the exception of Andrew Newell so I am hoping this is something we can feed off of,” said Manns. “Andrew has really grown a lot, not only as a basketball player, but also as a young man. He has come a long way. I’m really proud of him. He had some stretches through the course of the season where he was lights out. He really had a good senior year.”
In addition to his 23 points, Siefert had a game-high 10 rebounds and seven assists. He also had two steals; Losinski added eight points and three blocks.
Manns hopes playing in the district atmosphere helps his younger players. With nearly everyone returning, he believes this could be the start of something good.
“It is good to be playing here,” said Manns. “It is good experience for our guys. Hopefully, we will play well enough next year and have the opportunity to come back. ... We’ve had some good teams the last few years and they haven’t gotten to this point. Getting to the coliseum needs to be an expectation; it needs to be the norm with our kids instead of the exception. You have to think it before you can do it. I’m looking forward to next year and what they are able to do.”
Bishop Hartley advances to the district final where it will play Bloom-Carroll, a 48-37 winner over Bishop Ready on Tuesday night. The district final will be played on Thursday, March 12, at 6 p.m. at the coliseum.