NEW BREMEN — Fort Loramie’s offense looks a lot different from a 25-win campaign last year. Though there are not too many differences in terms of schematics, there’s a whole lot of difference in terms of personnel, tempo and shooting percentage.
The Redskins have four returning letterwinners back from last season, only two of which are playing right now. The rest of squad’s 13-man roster is made of newcomers.
That youth has resulted in a lot less baskets through the first week of the season. Instead of the high-flying offense that surpassed 60 points in 11 games last year, this year’s group hasn’t broken 50 yet.
They didn’t need to on Saturday in a nonconference game at New Bremen. After the Cardinals rallied to take the lead in the fourth quarter, Fort Loramie fought back to earn a 37-33 victory to improve to 2-1 overall.
“We could have folded,” Fort Loramie coach Corey Britton said. “We had a couple of turnovers there when they went up, and we could have thrown in the towel. But our kids kept fighting and we made plays down the stretch. That’s what we needed to do.”
The Redskins began play last Tuesday — nearly a week and a half after most other area teams due to the school’s football squad’s deep playoff run. Although a couple players have been on the court since early November, the full squad only had eight days of practice before taking the court last Tuesday at Houston.
Fort Loramie rallied from a poor start to beat the Wildcats 47-40, then lost an early lead and fell 40-34 to Jackson Center on Friday.
Britton said he’s pleased with the squad’s start — and especially pleased it was able to bounce back from Friday’s loss by earning a road win the next night.
“We were in the same situation as we were in last night and it went the same way as it did last night, but we finished tonight,” Britton said. “For our kids to fight back through that adversity is fantastic on their part.”
Fort Loramie led by eight late in the second quarter, but New Bremen scored the last four points of the half and then opened the third on a 7-2 run to take a lead.
After the Cardinals took a lead early in the fourth quarter, Fort Loramie slowed down what was already a cautious pace to a crawl. The Redskins worked the ball methodically on offense for long spurts to find open shots. At the same time, they stepped up their defensive pressure.
It worked. Fort Loramie didn’t allow a field goal by New Bremen for a six-minute stretch and finished the game on a 9-4 run.
“It’s just going to be like this for a while,” Britton said. “We’re just going to have scratch and claw and muddy up the waters a little bit until we get our basketball legs back.
“I’m not making any excuses. We went 2-1 this week. I love our kids to death. What they were able to accomplish this week, it’s not easy to do. We won a (Shelby County Athletic League) game, had another County team on the ropes, and tonight found a way to win one.”
New Bremen (2-2, 1-0 Midwest Athletic Conference) has a defense-first philosophy under first-year coach Brad Francis, who was a longtime assistant at Russia under Paul Bremigan.
The Cardinals have averaged 46 points per game through their first four contests and have allowed an average of 39.75.
“I have a pretty unique team in that they are 12 individuals and will fight for each other tooth and nail and not care about who gets the glory,” Francis said. “They know that for us to be a good team this year, we have to defend. We’re not going to put 75 or 80 points on the board every night.
“They’re resigned to the fact that there’s going to be points where we don’t score a lot of points, and nobody really cares.”
The offensive struggles hurt New Bremen late. The Cardinals struggled to make shots through most of the game and had a couple of spurts with several turnovers.
In the last 90 seconds, though, a trio of missed layups prevented New Bremen from staying in it.
“The kids are pretty beat up,” Francis said. “Those are shots we make about 98 percent of the time, but they just didn’t go in those times. Those are the way the orange ball goes through the orange cylinder sometimes.”
Bryce Blicke hit a 3-pointer with 5:26 left in the second quarter to bring New Bremen within 14-13 of Fort Loramie. After a timeout, the Redskins responded with a 7-0 run, which Collin Moore capped off with a pair of free throws with 46 seconds left.
New Bremen junior Patrick Wells made two free throws and followed with a put-back at the buzzer to cut the halftime lead to four points.
The run continued in the third quarter. Wells made a basket with 7:34 left, then Nolan Bornhorst made 1-of-2 free throws to bring New Bremen within 21-20.
Wells made a basket with 5:35 left to give the Cardinals a 23-22 lead, and the teams traded baskets over the next seven minutes.
Wells hit a 3 from the left corner with 6:24 left in the fourth to put the Cardinals ahead by one, but the squad didn’t make another field goal until the final seconds.
Fort Loramie mounted its comeback in the meantime. Nick Brandewie capped off a long possession with a 3-pointer from the left wing with 5:11 left to put Fort Loramie ahead 31-29.
After Bornhorst made two free throws to tie it with 4:29 left, neither team scored again until Grant Albers made two free throws with 1:54 left to put the Redskins up 33-31.
Eli Rosengarten made the first of two free throws with 43.5 seconds left but missed the second. New Bremen quickly moved the ball down court but missed a layup and a put-back attempt.
The Cardinals put on a full-court press after the missed shot, but Brandewie threw a pass down court to Eli Rosengarten, who scored a shot off the glass to increase the lead to 36-31.
“Those are our only two varsity letterwinners that are playing right now,” Britton said. “Nick made a great pass to Eli. That’s it. Those are two experienced kids making an experienced big-time play in a big-time game.
“… Any time you can go on the road on a double weekend and find a way to win is a great win. Coming here, with the way they play and how physical they are, and claw out a win is great. We’re never going to turn away a win.”
After Brandewie made a free throw with eight seconds left, Bornhorst scored a basket right before the buzzer to narrow the final margin to five.
Brandewie led Fort Loramie with 15 points while Rosengarten finished with seven.
The Redskins, which are 1-1 in SCAL play, return to action on Friday at home against St. Henry.
“I just can’t say how happy I am with our kids,” Britton said. “I’m amazed in the short time that we’ve had to prepare that that we’ve been able to compete like we have. It just speaks volumes about everybody involved.”
Francis said he was happy with how New Bremen’s players played until the end.
Wells led the Cardinals with 11 while Blickle finished with seven.
“I called a timeout with three minutes to go and said, ‘We’re going to take a deep breath, have fun,’” Francis said. “… I hope they went out there and had fun and tried their hardest. Sometimes the ball bounces your way, and sometimes it doesn’t.”