By Michael Rich
Olentangy Orange went on a 19-6 run bridging the second and third quarters to overtake host Big Walnut 63-49 in OCC-Capital Division action Wednesday in Sunbury.
The win, the Pioneers’ fourth straight, keeps them in a three-way tie for third place with New Albany and Mount Vernon in the conference standings.
“We knocked shots down,” Orange coach Bob Scott said. “The key to this group of kids is that you can actually run offense and be patient. You don’t have to make one pass and shoot … and that was the difference.”
McKenna Ford hit two three-pointers during the big run and Lena Mancini’s basket pushed the lead to 11 in the third quarter.
“I think it helped boost our confidence,” she said. “The passing was a lot better and we all worked as a team.”
“She shot the ball well tonight,” Scott said. “We had some kids shoot the ball well. That’s the difference — if we make shots. If we don’t, we struggle.”
Big Walnut kept chipping away at the Orange lead, however, pulling to within four after a 9-2 run, seven of which came at the free throw line.
“In the fourth quarter, we knew that they were in foul trouble,” Eagles assistant coach Gary Miller said. “We just spread the court and started taking the ball to the basket and that worked for a little bit.”
Schae Lilley’s layup ended the run with about 5:30 left in the game, which started a 15-4 run the Pioneers (5-5, 4-3) used to close it out.
“We made foul shots at the end and that was huge, too,” Scott said.
Lilly and Bree McCague hit threes on back-to-back possessions to help the Pioneers build a 24-17 lead in the second quarter — the largest lead at the time for either team.
Stacey Walters found a spot on the right wing and hit threes on consecutive possessions for the Golden Eagles (6-7, 2-5), both assisted by Kelly Kreager.
“I wasn’t quite happy with our defense, especially on the perimeter — we gave up too many threes,” Scott said. “We talked about that at halftime and we did a better job of playing defense in the second half even though we fouled a lot.”
Kreager then found the bottom of the net on a three from the left wing to give Big Walnut a 29-27 lead with 1:26 left in the half. She led all scorers with 22 points.
“(Kreager) played under control very well tonight,” Miller said. “(She) knocked down some big three-pointers, drove to the basket well — it was a big step up game for her. We’ve asked her to be more under control and take good shots and she did that very well (Wednesday).”
Orange closed the half strong thanks to Ford’s first three-pointer, which was sandwiched between four made free throws by Lilley and Ally Cummings. Cummings hit her free throws with no time left on the first half clock. The Pioneers led 36-31 at the break.
“We scored (36) points in the first half, so we made some shots … we got out in transition a little bit,” Scott said.
The win gives the Pioneers their fourth straight, which a confidence booster.
“Our team is coming together and we’re working as one more and more as each game goes on,” Ford said.
Miller filled in for Steve Palmer, who he said was out with pneumonia.
“He had a 101-, 102-degree temperature,” Miller said. “He went to the doctor and they told him that he couldn’t leave the house for 24 hours because he’s contagious. He says that he’ll be back tomorrow, but we’ll see — that’s tough to come back from (that quickly). But, I know he doesn’t want to miss another game.”
Both teams continue league play Friday night. Big Walnut travels to Franklin Heights and Orange hosts Worthington Kilbourne. Both games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.