FOSTORIA - It will be the best the Midland Athletic League has to offer vs. the best of the Toledo Area Athletic Conference when Division IV district tournament play begins Tuesday at Lakota High School.
Top-seeded Old Fort and second-seeded New Riegel, who shared the MAL championship along with Fremont St. Joe, knocked off a couple other league foes to claim sectional championships at Fostoria High School.
In the opener, the Stockaders (20-3) turned back Calvert 72-55. In the follow-up, New Riegel (21-3) downed Hopewell-Loudon 73-50.
Old Fort will take on 19-4 Ottawa Hills Tuesday at 6:15 in the Lakota District. The Green Bears ousted St. Joe 64-48 Friday in the Eastwood sectional. New Riegel faces 21-2 Toledo Christian in Tuesday's second game. The Eagles downed Cardinal Stritch 54-33 for their sectional crown.
Toledo Christian is the TAAC champion, finishing one game ahead of runner-up Ottawa Hills.
Old Fort walloped Calvert 89-32 back in early January, but that was before the Senecas saw the return of point guard Nick Warnement from injury.
Calvert's recent fortunes were on an upswing and the Senecas were focused on an upset. It was a mental challenge for the Stockaders.
"How do you look into the minds of 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds and see what they're thinking?" Old Fort coach Eric Hoover said. "I looked at Calvert as a totally different team.
"We turned them over all the time the first time we played them and I knew it wouldn't come that easily this time," he said. "He (Warnement) gives them another offensive weapon, but I think he makes a real difference for them defensively."
He was both at the start with a pair of jumpers in the lane and a steal for a layup for a 6-2 Calvert edge in a little more than a minute of play. But Old Fort, mostly behind Dalton Perry and Matt Hill, rallied.
The game was tied twice and the lead changed hands five times in the first 12 minutes. After Old Fort inched ahead 18-17 at the quarter break, Calvert's Jared Thompson scored seven straight points to help his club take a 24-22 lead.
Brian Gruss hit one of his four 3-pointers with 3:57 left in the half for a 27-24 advantage. But that was Calvert's last score of the half.
Meanwhile, Old Fort got four points from Hunter Perry and a last-second jumper AJ Phillimore in an 8-0 run for a 32-27 lead at the half.
Calvert might have been able to survive that little burst, but when the Stockaders outscored the Senecas 11-2 in the first five minutes of the second half, it was a killer.
Hunter Perry and Brad Bannister each had two baskets and an assist in the surge that allowed Old Fort to take control.
"They were able to manufacture points from so many places, they gave us problems," Calvert coach Ted Willman said after his club finished the year 6-18. "We needed to come out and get a stop to start the second half and instead, I think we gave up a layup.
"Even though we got three (from Gruss) to cut it to (four), they put together another run and had us scrambling."
Old Fort led 44-30 before Gruss again hit a 3-pointer. Calvert was able to come within five at 47-42 on a Michael Smith trey early in the fourth, but Stockaders regained control by hitting 11 foul shots down the stretch.
"One big thing is we did a better job of rebounding," Hoover said. "They were getting a lot off the boards in the first half. We got some transition finally and got a little more ball pressure in the halfcourt and we were able to build a lead."
Hunter Perry had 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists to lead the winners. Old Fort also got 19 points from Cole Davidson, 12 from Dalton Perry and eight from Phillimore.
Gruss topped Calvert with 14 points. Warnement and Austin Ball each added 10 and Thompson had nine.
In like fashion, a big third quarter was the difference-maker for New Riegel in the nightcap.
The Blue Jackets handled H-L 51-37 back in December but struggled for much of the first half Friday night. Though the Chieftains (11-13) never led in the game, they did tie it at 18-18 with 4:44 to go in the half after Alec Gregg hit a 3-pointer and Ryan Lommerse hit a couple of them.
New Riegel then gained a 29-24 edge at the half after Nick Wank fed Andrew Hohman for two and then added a couple foul shots and a 3-pointer.
But if that short spurt was a start, the Blue Jackets were soon to come up with a big finish in the third quarter, when they induced nine Chieftain turnovers.
It began with Wank and Korey Williams each getting three-point play and Hohman hit a 3-pointer. Brandyn Reinhart, named MAL Player of the Year this week, had been limited to five points in the first half, but he went to work for 12 more in the third period alone as New Riegel pushed the margin to 54-36.
"I thought we lost our identity in the first half and played right into their hand," New Riegel coach Todd Aichholz said. "We played Hopewell-Loudon's style of basketball as far as tempo of the game.
"In the second half, I think (the Blue Jackets) stepped up to the challenge and came out with a lot of passion, a lot of aggressiveness," he said. "We started dictating a little more with our defense. We got a couple steals and we started feeding off that."
"The turnovers and we stopped playing defense," Hopewell-Loudon coach Adam Smith said. "Suddenly they were getting wide-open jump shots wherever they wanted.
"In the first half, I thought we defended about as well as we could have," he said. "We were our own blown offensive opportunities away from being tied or ahead. I don't know what happened that third quarter. We just stopped guarding anybody."
Reinhart led the winners with 21 points and 10 rebounds. But New Riegel had a four-pronged attack with Hohman netting 16, Wank 15 and Williams 10.
"Our guards played well tonight and it starts with they kept knocking down shots from the outside and it opened things up in the middle," Aichholz said. "In the second half, our guards did a much better job of being aggressive."
Tyler Imes came off the bench was a strong post presence for the Chieftains while scoring 16 points. Lommerse added 15 and Gregg chipped in 10.
Toledo Christian ended New Riegel's season last year at the Lakota District and Aichholz said the Eagles will provide a major challenge again.
"They are very athletic, probably the most athletic team I've seen all year," he said. "They have team speed at every position and even coming off the bench.
"It's an opportunity for us and obviously, at this time of the year, we've got to take one game at a time."