HOWARD — With the clock getting near 30 seconds left, Fredericktown senior Nick Cunningham splashed home a three to give his team a 34-31 lead over East Knox and he rattled off four more points to close out the game and give the Freddies a 38-33 win over the Bulldogs.
“Nick being a senior, he’s been there before,” Fredericktown coach Derek Dibling said. “He’s made big shots before and he’s that guy where he wants the ball in his hands, where I think a lot of guys shy away from that. They don’t want to be the guy, but Nick thrives in that situation.”
The game was tied at 31 apiece with nearly 1:30 to go, before the Freddies used ball movement to stay on the offensive end of the floor for almost a minute before Cunningham hit the big three with 34 ticks to go.
“Ty (Hatfield) had an open shot but he passed it up and he gave me a better look so I knocked that one down and put us up three,” Cunningham said. “I knew it was in.”
Cunningham’s number was called again to step up to the line. He hit four-straight freebies on one-and-one opportunities to put the game on ice, despite a late bucket from the Bulldogs’ Anthony Gilmore.
“I was thinking to myself, just like practice,” Cunningham said of his free throws. “It’s just like practice. This is going in.”
The 38 points was Fredericktown’s lowest scoring output of the season and it was due to the stout defensive effort of the Bulldogs.
“I thought we played defense the whole game,” East Knox coach Ryan Powell said. “To hold those guys to 31 with a minute to go was pretty good, the only problem was we only had 31 at that point as well.”
East Knox had their best offensive quarter in the first with 12 points, with Weston Melick notching four and four other Bulldogs kicking in on the scoring column. Lincoln Cunningham had six points in the first quarter, but the Freddies were behind 12-11 after the first.
The Bulldog defense continued working in overdrive, with the home team running out to a 17-11 lead with 2:34 to go after a 3-pointer by Peyton Lester. East Knox outscored Fredericktown 7-5 in the period to go up 19-16 heading into the locker room.
“They kind of caught me off guard with the zone and I think they caught the guys off guard a little bit,” Dibling said. “We were just out of sync at first. Give (East Knox) a lot of credit defensively. They work hard.”
Thanks to four points from Nick Cunningham in the third quarter, the Freddies got one point back, outscoring the Bulldogs 8-7, despite four points from Cody Cockrell. The game went into the fourth with East Knox ahead 26-24.
Nick Cunningham hit another three early in the fourth to put Fredericktown ahead 29-27 with 4:27 to go, before he racked up seven points late and the Freddies doubled up the Bulldogs, 14-7, in the final frame to win by five.
Monday’s matchup was a makeup game from earlier in the season and it was Senior Night for East Knox’s three seniors, Gilmore, Cockrell and Braydon Burkhart. The senior trio combined for 17 of the teams 33 points in their final game, with Gilmore recording seven.
“Those three guys have stuck with me and I’m very loyal to them. They’ve been the single biggest reason for us turning this around,” Powell said of his seniors. “They’ve bought into what I’ve been teaching here since I got hired last year, which is defense and rebounding.”
Melick tied Gilmore in scoring with seven points, while Nathan Whitney had four points and Lester and Shane Knepp combined for five points.
Nick Cunningham led the Freddies with 16 points, all in the second half. Lincoln Cunningham was also in double digits with 11 points. Terry Fearn had five points, while Clem Cunningham and Jake Partington combined for four points.
The loss dropped the Bulldogs to 11-10 on the year with a 7-7 mark in the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference. East Knox has another makeup game against Lucas, before heading into the postseason Monday on the road against North Union with a 7 p.m. tipoff. Fredericktown now totes a 13-9 record and a 10-4 league record, putting them second in the final KMAC standings. The Freddies hit the hardwood Monday for a postseason contest on the road against Liberty Union at 7 p.m.
“I think for the last couple of weeks, our goal has been to get ready for the postseason,” Dibling said. “I think this again is just a step in the right direction.”
The rest of this article is available to our subscribers.
Do your part to support local journalism
Subscribe to our e-edition to read this and many other articles written by your neighbors.