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GIBSON CITY — There were questions. Mounting questions.
There are always questions when a basketball team is struggling to find the win column.
Can the game plan still be effective? Do changes need to be made? What’s next to keep the season from spiraling out of control?
After 13 games, and 13 losses, Fisher boys basketball head coach Ron Ragle opted for a different approach. At his team’s practice on Dec. 17, he announced the team would abandon his favored zone defense for man-to-man.
“We work on it every day,” Ragle said, “but we’d played it maybe five minutes all season.”
Turned out to be a good move.
The Bunnies led or were tied for all but 19 seconds on Dec. 18 and posted a 50-42 win on the road against a Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley team they had lost to during the losing streak.
“It was almost like we’d forgotten how to win,” senior forward Tate Estes said.
Estes was one of the catalysts. He was two rebounds shy of a double-double at halftime and achieved that mark within the first 40 seconds of the third quarter. He finished with game-high totals of 19 points and 14 rebounds, the latter accounting for all but 10 of Fisher’s total.
The Bunnies doubled the score after one period (18-9), expanded their lead to 11 at halftime (30-19) and increased the margin to 13 points entering the final eight minutes (37-24) when sophomore guard Grant Pointer knocked down two free throws less than a second before the third-period buzzer sounded.
“In the first half, we played about as well as we have,” Ragle said.
GCMS (3-6) stormed back in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, hitting 8 of 10 shots (matching its entire field goal output from the first three periods) and drew within 41-40 on junior Wiley Hasty’s steal and layup with 4:26 left.
“It got nerve-racking,” Estes said, “and we started forcing shots we didn’t need to force.”
The defense kicked back in, holding GCMS to a pair of free throws the rest of the game.
“So many times before we gotten down and couldn’t get back up,” Ragle said. “This time, we got over the hump and pulled through. We did enough to win.”
Junior guard Kyle Williams added 13 points for the Bunnies, and senior forward Hans Carmien scored seven.
“We came in determined,” Ragle said, “and were much more positive as a team.”
Fisher 48, GCMS 16
GIBSON CITY — The timetable hasn’t changed.
“From the start (of the season), we looked at this as a two-year plan,” Fisher girls basketball head coach Ken Ingold said.
A girls basketball team that was underclass-oriented when the season began became even more youthful when the lone senior left the team recently to prepare for the indoor track and field season.
“We’re trying to mix the pieces together,” Ingold said.
The process is going smoothly. Fisher never trailed in its Dec. 18 Heart of Illinois Conference game at rival Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and reached the .500 mark (7-7) with the win.
“We’re getting better and starting to show some good signs,” Ingold said. “I thought we turned the corner when we won at PBL (on Dec. 15), against a team that had beaten us earlier.”
Caitlin Cole, a 6-foot-2 junior, is a big part of the turnaround. The center spent the second quarter on the bench with two fouls, and Fisher’s 17-6 lead after one quarter dwindled to 20-14 at halftime.
She returned in the third quarter, when the Bunnies went on a 23-0 run, and sat out the fourth quarter after the lead reached 29 points. Cole hit 5 of 7 shots and scored 11 points in two quarters.
“They have a great inside/outside combination,” GCMS head coach Kyle Bielfeldt said. “They exploited that on us in the third quarter.”
While Cole draws attention close to the basket, junior Sydney Blackwell operates in space on the perimeter. The guard nailed four third-quarter three-pointers — two coming within 13 seconds of one another — and totaled a game-high 17 points. Blackwell was 5 of 5 from beyond the arc.
Another player who stepped into the limelight, Ingold said, was junior Olivia Heffernan.
“Olivia did a great job running our offense and providing leadership,” Ingold said of the guard, who tallied what is believed to be a single-game school record with 11 assists. “She was a real spark plug.”
Cole continues to be a player that opposing coaches must try to neutralize. In the past year, Ingold has seen her make significant strides.
“The biggest difference is she runs the court better,” Ingold said. “She’s 6-2, but she’s pretty fast. Her hands have been solid, and we’re working on her footwork. With the way she can run, rebound and help on defense, I think she’ll be a good college player.”