Hartville’s defense shines in win against Fatima

ROLLA — When you spend most of the game wondering if you’ll end up with more turnovers than points, odds are the final result isn’t going to be in your favor.

That was the story for the Fatima Comets on Wednesday night in their Class 3 sectional with the Hartville Eagles. Fatima turned the ball over a whopping 28 times in 32 minutes and dropped a 64-33 decision at Missouri S&T.

“We just got beat by a better team,” Fatima coach Ryan Robertson said. “Their pressure was as good as I’ve seen, so credit them.”

The Comets had six turnovers in the first, followed by 10 each in the second and third periods before cutting it down to two in the fourth, when the game had been long decided.

When James Rakestraw connected on a pair of free throws with 3:58 left in the game, Fatima trailed 54-29. At that point they had committed the last of their miscues and it gave them more points than turnovers for the first time since they took a 2-0 lead.

“We knew they pressure the ball well, but you can’t mimic it,” Robertson said. “That’s one of the fastest teams I’ve seen as a coach. They don’t just deny wings, they deny wings, they deny high post, they deny what we call uphill, which is (going backwards to get it) back to the point guard.

“The average observer is asking, ‘Why aren’t they getting into any of their sets?’ Well, we couldn’t even get the ball back to the point guard to get into anything.”

But the Comets also played some pretty good defense in the first half to hang around for as long as they did. They trailed 10-2 after one period and after the first 14 ½ minutes, they had just three points to go with 15 turnovers and had made just 1-of-9 shots.

Still, they had allowed just 20 points and when they scored the final five points of the first half on a free throw by Zach Buscher and back-to-back layups by Alex Dickneite, the Comets were within 20-8.

“You look at the scoreboard and we held them to 20 points, and all those were off offensive rebounds or turnovers,” Robertson said. “So you’re thinking, our defense is good, we just have to find a way to score. Well, our only way to score was trying to turn them over, and then it becomes a track meet and their two guards are just hard to stop.”

The Comets made one last-gasp push right after intermission. They more than doubled their first-half production during the first two minutes out of the locker room and cut the deficit to nine points three different times. The last came at 26-17 on a pair of free throws by Nolan Huot.

But Hartville responded with a 16-0 run, with 14 of those points coming off turnovers, to effectively end the game. The Eagles’ lead was 42-20 heading to the fourth quarter.

“They’re just a great team,” Robertson said simply.

The final score was the Eagles’ largest lead of the contest and the final 1:33 was played with the running clock due to the mercy rule.

Hartville hit an astounding 18-of-24 from the field (75 percent) in the second half.

Last season, the Comets beat the Eagles 62-46 in this round on their way to a spot in the Final Four. After losing four starters off that team, not many people expected a return trip to the playoffs for Fatima. The Comets lose three seniors — Tom Zeilman, John Fick and Buscher.

“I told our seniors, for them to be sitting in that locker room, what a credit to them,” Robertson said. “Their heart all year long has just been incredible. They play with so much emotion and just give it everything.”

Jared Schulte led Fatima with nine points, while Dickneite had eight.

Shade Piper had 26 points to pace Hartville, while Seth Hensley added 10.

Fatima ends the season with a record of 19-9, while Hartville improves to 26-2.

“Some people will disagree, but you don’t want to lose this game by two,” Robertson said. “Then you’ve got the rest of your life to think about it. You don’t want it this bad, but this way you can go home at night not second-guessing things here or there, you just got your tails kicked.

“Our seniors, what leaders they were, and to get this team here was an accomplishment.”

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