BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FAIRFIELD – It was a first half that made Head Coach Charlie Knipe proud. But it was the second half that made him crazy.
The Lady Hounds played one of their better halves of basketball all year in staying within three of 15th-ranked Fairfield, but an 8-0 run to start the third spelled doom and Fort Madison fell 62-44 on Friday.
Junior Amber Dilsaver led Fort Madison with 18 points, with every single one of her 9 buckets being a lead-in pass at the bottom of the lane for a turn-around layup. And Fairfield didn’t have an answer for that, instead utilizing a strategy of pressure defense on the guard court and a full-court press for most of the game.
“We had a great first half,” Knipe said. “We were happy. We were running our offense. We were overcoming the full court pressure well…I don’t think I would have changed a thing in the first half.”
Fort Madison had a 4-0 lead to start the first quarter as Fairfield’s sharpshooters Kylie Kurtz, Sami Fritz and Nicole Burch struggled to find range in a wide open Fairfield offense comprised of using perimeter passing until someone was open for a three. Rarely did a Fairfield player on offense hold the ball for more than three seconds integrating skip passes and moving the ball inside and out to find the open shooter.
Meanwhile Fort Madison held onto a 6-5 lead with just over four minutes left in the first quarter before Fritz, who averages 16 points per game, heated up and converted two inside buckets after the perimeter passing opened driving lanes, and then nailed a 3-pointer with just over a minute left to put the Trojans up 16-12. Fort Madison’s Emily Mitchell countered from just outside the lane on the left, but Burch dialed in from long-distance to put Fairfield up 19-14 at the end of one.
Burch connected quickly in the second quarter, but Fort Madison freshman Anna Kester countered with a 3-pointer to pull the Hounds back within four at 21-17. Burch then connected on a three and Fritz scored inside before Brittiney Harris got hacked in the act and converted the 3-point play. She scored on the next possession as well and then Dilsaver did her work inside a couple times and the Hound were in business at 26-29 at the end of the half.
Knipe said his team was playing well and he didn’t want to change up strategies for fear that Fritz would take over scoring on penetration.
“Well we really can’t change anything at that point because if we give something up (Sami) Fritz is going to score in the middle,” Knipe said.
Fairfield got after the Hounds quickly to start the third period when Burch his a three on the second trip down the floor and Fritz scored on a drive and then went outside for a three pointer to spearhead an 8-0 run that had the Hounds down 37-26. The Trojan press now was giving the Hounds fits as Fort Madison didn’t get the ball across the timeline into their set offense for over three minutes.
Fort Madison was able to cut the lead back to nine a couple times in the quarter all on inside scoring with Dilsaver, and Mercedes and Mariah Trimble doing most of the scoring inside. But the Trojans kept getting to the free throw line and the Hounds were forced to come out and guard the perimeter. The move allowed Fairfield to penetrate for driving buckets and trips to the charity stripe.
“We gave up two quick buckets in the third quarter and now we’re down by 10 and we hung our heads a bit and just never really recovered,” Knipe said.
“We just made silly, silly mistakes, I would bet we had 20 turnovers. We are playing so much better than we were last month. I’d like to get a win against Keokuk and then have another shot at ’em,” he said.
Fort Madison plays Keokuk at Keokuk in the first round of Class 4A regionals on Wednesday with a 7 p.m. tip off.
Rounding out the scoring for the 5-16 Hounds were Dilsaver with 18, Harris with 7, Mercedes Trimble with 6, Emily Mitchell and Mariah Trimble each had five points and Kester added her 3. Fritz led Fairfield with 25 points.