By Michael Rich
Seniors made big plays in their swan song to help the Olentangy Orange girls basketball team get by Big Walnut 43-33 Thursday night in Lewis Center.
The Pioneers (10-12, 7-7) held BW to just two free throws in the third frame after trailing 21-19 at the half.
“At halftime we talked about guarding the shooters, rebounding – which we still had some issues – and playing defense,” Pioneers coach Bob Scott said. “And we did. We held them to (12) points in the second half – that’s pretty good defense.”
“We kind of shut down their shooters (on defense),” senior Bree McCague said. “We (made) smarter passes and didn’t turn over the ball as much (on offense).”
Orange tied the score at 21-21 on a basket by McCague and took the lead on a Hannah Sargent drive-and-score. McCague finished with seven points and a team-high seven rebounds.
The Golden Eagles (8-14, 4-10) were scoreless through the first six minutes and 50 seconds of the period before freshman Erin Boehm knocked in a pair at the line. Boehm scored six points for BW.
“We have the capability to do that sometimes,” Scott said about his defense. “We’re to the point where we’re at least competing – not always winning – with the teams that we should be competing with. Now we got to take the next step.”
After the free throws, a pair of seniors hooked up to create distance. Lena Mancini found Desi Gray for a pair of threes on consecutive possessions in the decisive third quarter for Orange. The Pioneers led 31-23 after three.
“That’s so awesome,” McCague exclaimed. “She really deserves that. That was great for our senior night. It really helped us.”
“That’s the Desi Gray we see in practice all the time,” Scott said. “She can hit those shots – she saved them for the right time. (Those) were huge shots … huge shots.”
“You tell me that Schae Lilley has four and Ford has nine, I like our chances,” BW coach Steve Palmer said. “But Desi Gray’s two threes back-to-back – it separated them enough it’s almost like it took our heart.”
Mancini went 6-for-6 at the line during an 8-0 spurt in the fourth quarter that extended the Pioneers’ lead to 43-29.
“At some point you got to put the ball in the hoop,” Palmer said. “I don’t think it was our shot selection. I thought we had good looks, we just couldn’t get anything out of them. You just gotta put that ball through the orange thing.”
The Eagles came out strong in the first, getting three-pointers by Paige Norman and Katie Cochran to build an 8-5 lead midway through the frame.
McKenna Ford came off the bench and scored on a drive and then hit a three-pointer with about eight seconds left in the period to give the Pioneers a 12-9 lead at the end of one. Ford led Orange with nine points and three steals.
Katie Neff hit a pair of threes in the second quarter and Cochran scored four points in the frame to give the Eagles the lead at the break. Cochran led the Eagles with nine points, coming one point shy of a double-double, and Neff added six points.
“(Cochran) played her butt off,” Palmer said. “I like that effort, especially from a sophomore.”
BW held a decisive 36-23 advantage on the boards, including 22 on the offensive end. Cochran led the charge with 11 rebounds and finished with team-highs in points (nine) and steals (five).
“We rebounded well – we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket and that’s what the game comes down to,” Palmer said.
Paige Norman added seven points and Ellie Jindra and Taryn Hammond pulled down five boards apiece for the Eagles.
Hannah Sargent scored six points and Alyssa Feeley finished with six rebounds for the Pioneers.
“Hannah Sargent has gotten better and better,” Scott said. “She’s coming off of soccer and hasn’t played much basketball. She handles the ball for us and she can get to the basket. She’s a pretty good defensive player, too.”
All five seniors started for Orange, including Sofia Simpson and Ally Cummings, who each had two points.
“They all stepped up,” Scott said. “I told them I was proud of them – they stuck through it the entire year.”
Both teams won’t see action again until the tournament. Big Walnut will travel to Teays Valley, the Central District’s 10 seed, Saturday, Feb. 10 at 1 p.m.
Orange has a first round bye and will face the winner of Olentangy Liberty, the second seed, and Westland Friday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.
Delaware Christian 53, Shekinah Christian 43
Erin McCullough finished with a double-double — 19 points and 11 rebounds — to lead Delaware Christian to a solid win over host Shekinah Christian Thursday evening.
The Eagles started fast and finished strong, outscoring Shekinah 19-12 in the first quarter and 15-8 in the fourth.
Elizabeth Blackburn backed McCullough with 13 points and six rebounds. Olivia House was also solid, finishing with nine points, four assists and five rebounds, and Anna Fuller chipped in five points and six boards.
DCS returns to action Saturday against host Berne Union. Tip is set for 3:30 p.m.
West Jefferson 70, Delaware Christian 58.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.