A year ago, in the same game, on the same floor, it was a much different scene.
The Oak Hill Golden Eagles, coming off a state runner-up finish the previous year, were stunned by longtime rival Frankton in one of the biggest upsets of the entire season. The Golden Eagles’ defense, who had only given up 50 points or more twice in the regular season, gave up 68 on that evening 364 days previous, ending a campaign that many believed would end at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – and a state championship.
Oak Hill Head Coach Todd Law did not forget last year’s game. Neither did his players. And in the regional round this year, they used that contest, and that heartbreak, as motivation.
“We’ve had a poster-sized of that scoreboard from last year’s regional hanging in our locker room all year,” Law said. “I took it down and put it right in front of them where they would see it when they walked in tonight.”
And at the end of their regional final with Tipton on Saturday night, the tears from a year ago were replaced with cheers. The hugs and embraces were not ones of sadness and comfort, but ones of pure joy and elation.
Because the Golden Eagles are back in the semi-state for the second time in the last three years.
In their most dominant performance in a season full of incredible moments, individual efforts, and a lot of wins, Oak Hill shut down the No. 9 team in the state from beginning to end. Taylor Westgate was a machine, Jenessa Hasty showed flashes of brilliance, the defense was stout, and the Golden Eagles put last year’s demons to rest with a 56-36 triumph over the Blue Devils.
“I just really felt that in the first game [this afternoon], we were so nervous, uptight, [and] timid, and that was all just released off tonight,” Law said. “I thought we came out with more of an attack mentality, and obviously we played well.”
Tipton’s Lexi Altherr opened the game with a field goal to give the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead – and that was the only time they ever led in the contest. Westgate scored five of the Golden Eagles’ first seven points give Oak Hill a 7-6 lead, and then, they blew the game wide open.
Hasty, who has worked all year on rediscovering her offensive game, provided the spark the Golden Eagles needed. The senior guard scored six straight points on three consecutive, jumpstarting a 12-2 run that gave the Golden Eagles a 17-6 advantage, and a double-digit lead they would never relinquish.
“I just wanted to get to the basket, because my shot hasn’t feeling the greatest,” Hasty said. “[I was] just looking to get the crowd going and get our energy up.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
Leadng 19-8 heading into the second half, the Golden Eagles’ continued their offensive assault. After scoring five points in the opening frame, Westgate added five more in the second as Oak Hill took a 30-15 lead into the intermission.
Meanwhile, on the defensive end of the floor, the Golden Eagles did a masterful job of limiting of Tipton star Cassidy Crawford, holding her to just five points in the opening 16 minutes.
“We knew we had to stop Crawford,” Hasty said. “We knew that Crawford could pretty much score anywhere, so we were just trying to communicate that during the [game.]”
Lexi Altherr was held to just four points, while Kelsey Mitchell, another capable scorer for the Blue Devils to hold to two.
“We pride ourselves on our defense,” Westgate said. “And I think we really are working well together and communicating.”
Though they were up by double-digits heading into the second quarter, Law knew that his team could not get complacent or let up in any way. Tipton has enough talent to make a comeback in any game, no matter how many points they are trailing by.
“I was concerned because Tipton had so many come-from-behind wins,” Law said. “They had two in the sectional. They had four in the regular season as well, so we talked about that, how it was going to be very important to come back out and establish things in the third quarter, so we did.”
Westgate continued her dominance in the second half, scoring Oak Hill’s first 12 points to help them build a 42-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. After scoring just 10 points in the regional semifinal against LCC, Westgate was the focal point of the offense, and Tipton had no answer for her.
“My team helped me out a lot,” Westgate said. “They had great passes and helped get me open the whole game.”
The Golden Eagles cruised the rest of the way, never allowing the Blue Devils to get closer than 14 points through the remainder of the fourth quarter.
Westgate led all scorers with 24 points on eight-of-11 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. Hasty was perfect from the field, scoring 12 points on five-for-five shooting together while also recording four steals, four rebounds, and two assists.
“She’s building confidence [and] trying to get back,” Law said. “She’s always a great defender [and]passes the ball well. But she got some layups and drives off stuff we really needed.”
Brittany McCorkle finished with eight points on two-for-two shooting and four-for-five from the free throw line, while Kaela Robey added seven in the Golden Eagles victory.
Crawford was held to 10 points on three-of-11 shooting, while Mitchell finished with only eight. As a team, the Golden Eagles held Tipton to 0-for-12 shooting from the three-point line.
“Our guards did a nice job out front keeping pressure on the ball so they couldn’t find some things down inside that were open,” Law said. “What else can you say about our defense? We’ve given up 40 points or more only twice all year.”
Oak Hill will face off against Central Noble, last year’s defending state champions in Class 2A, at Logansport next Saturday at 4 pm.