Defense carries Oak Hill to third straight regional final appearance

Saturday morning’s regional semifinal between the Oak Hill Golden Eagles and the Lafayette Central Catholic Knights could be characterized as a sloppy performance by both teams.

Both offenses struggled most of the afternoon, turning the ball over at a high rate while displaying a lack of cohesion.

But throughout the 2018-2019 season, defense has been the Golden Eagles’ biggest strength.

And in a game where offense was hard to come by, their stellar play on the defensive end of the floor proved to be the difference, as Oak Hill punched their ticket to a third straight regional championship appearance with a 37-26 triumph over the Knights.

“Our defense and rebounding helped us survive,” Oak Hill Head Coach Todd Law said. “We were pretty inept in every other area today, which is just disappointing. We survived, and hopefully we can regroup a little bit this afternoon and get ready to play a little bit better tonight.”

In the first quarter, the two teams combined for seven total points as the Golden Eagles led 4-3 heading into the second stanza. Oak Hill shot just two-for-six, turning the ball over five times, while LCC knocked down just one of their nine attempts.

The lack of offense continued in the second frame, as Oak Hill shot two-for-six again, while the Knights were a woeful two-for-10 from the field.

Holding on to a 6-5 advantage midway through the quarter, a triple from Abby Shaw and two made free throws from Marissa Wilk pushed Oak Hill’s lead to 11-5. LCC’s Lexi Thompson hit a three of her own on the Knights’ ensuing possession to cut it back down to three points, but two more free throws, this time from Taylor Westgate, made it 13-8 at halftime.

Throughout the first half, the Golden Eagles seemed to rush their offense every time they went down the floor. Passes were forced, poor shots were taken, and a lack of offensive rebounding led to several one-and-done possessions.

“We were totally impatient [and] jamming the ball in places it shouldn’t go,” Law said. “We had 12 turnovers in the first half. We just didn’t play the way that we needed to offensively to be successful on that end of the floor.”

Oak Hill’s offense did find a little life in the third quarter, using an 11-4 surge to take their biggest cushion of the afternoon at 14 points. Thompson and Halle Blumling hit back-to-back treys to bring the game back down to single digits, and a field goal from LCC freshman Karsyn Cherry made it 28-20 heading into the final frame.

Another three, this time from Caroline Lutz, and a free throw from Cherry cut the Golden Eagles’ lead down to four, but the Knights would not get any closer. Oak Hill closed the game on a 9-3 run, which included two huge putbacks from Westgate and Adrianna Trexler and a few timely free throws from Kaela Robey, to make it back to the regional final.

“We only had two offensive rebounds at half, so that was an area where we challenged them a little bit,” Law said. “We came out and did a much better job of that, and in the fourth quarter, those two putbacks [by Trexler and Westgate] were pretty big for us.”

Robey was tremendous in the second half, going to the foul line five times and knocking down nine of her 10 attempts. With the Golden Eagles’ offense reeling, she provided the spark that the team needed on both ends of the floor. For the game, Robey finished with 13 points and six rebounds.

“I [told] her in practice the other day that when [LCC] went man, her matchup would be a kid that she would have some size on and quickness on and [that she] should try to take it to the basket,” Law said. “I thought she did do a good job of that.”

Westgate finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, while Trexler added four in the Golden Eagles’ victory.

Cherry scored eight points to lead the Knights, while Thompson finished with six and Blumling collected five.

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