Golden Eagles’ season ends with loss to Bellmont, but future looks bright

For three quarters in their Sectional 23 opening contest on Tuesday evening at Norwell, the Oak Hill Golden Eagles went toe-to-toe with a skilled, long, and athletic Bellmont Squaws squad, battling tenaciously from the opening tip to the final whistle. 

However, it was the second quarter that proved the difference, and it resulted in the end of the Golden Eagles’ 2020-2021 season. 

Bellmont outscored the Golden Eagles 13-2 in the second stanza, forcing eight turnovers in the process and held Oak Hill off the scoreboard until the 24-second mark, building a double-digit lead they would not relinquish in a 51-34 victory. 

“We’ve struggled to play in the half-court,” Oak Hill Head Coach Clay Bolser said. “This is just a team that is not designed that way, and Bellmont, this was a game that was going [to come down] to which team was going to control the tempo.” 

The first eight minutes were fairly even, with neither team leading by more than three points. Bellmont’s Morgan Shifferly provided nearly all the Squaws’ offense, scoring 10 points on four-of-four shooting from the field and two-of-two from the line, but Oak Hill countered with Nikki Alston, who knocked down a pair of threes and hit two free throws of her own. 

While Alston’s strong shooting kept Oak Hill in the contest in the early going, Bolser admitted that Bellmont’s stout zone defense created problems for the Golden Eagles’ offense as they were unable to get the ball down low and establish a post presence. 

“I probably tried to get a little bit too creative with my gameplan,” Bolser said. “I wanted to do something to attack the middle [and] to get ourselves involved where we could swing [the ball] and get Kate involved early to try to get them in foul trouble, and we could never get her the ball. We were fortunate to make some threes early.” 

In the following stanza, everything started to unravel. 

The Squaws blocked all passing lanes and locked up the Golden Eagles on the perimeter, forcing them into giveaways, which led to easy baskets in transition. Additionally, Bellmont’s aggressive defensive scheme did not allow for many open looks for the Golden Eagles, who shot zero-of-seven in the quarter, and early foul trouble for key players like Hornocker and point guard Carlee Biddle threw Oak Hill out of their offensive flow. 

Bellmont scored the first 13 points of the quarter, increasing their advantage from three to 16 points, and the Golden Eagles did not score for the first 7:36 until another pair of free throws from Nikki Alston broke the scoreless drought. The Squaws scored in a variety of ways  — in the paint, from the perimeter, and on offensive putbacks — taking a 26-12 halftime lead.

“We missed some shots, and it just kind of snowballed,” Bolser said. “I knew there would be runs, and I knew that would make some shots. We were doing our best to try and prevent them from getting touches in the paint, and we were going to take the risk that they were going to make some outside shots. They did that, we had to spread out a little bit, and that opened it up for some offensive rebounds.” 

Oak Hill scored the first two baskets of the third quarter, cutting the Bellmont lead down to 10 points, but that is as close as they would get. Bellmont scored 13 more points in the third, and while the Golden Eagles scored 15 points in the fourth, the Squaws never trailed by less than 15 points. 

Alston led the way for the Golden Eagles, scoring 15 points, while Hornocker, in her final high school game, scored five points and secured nine rebounds. Audrey Leak added five points off the bench, which all came in the fourth quarter. 

Shifferly finished with 20 points for Bellmont, while Faith Morris scored 15 points, 11 of which came in the second half. 

While their season came to an end on Tuesday night, the Golden Eagles made significant strides under Bolser’s leadership.

In a campaign marked by COVID-19 and all the trials that came with it, together with learning a new system under a new coach, the Golden Eagles attacked those challenges head on, becoming a better and more improved team each time they stepped on the floor. They fought for Bolser night in and night out, bonded with one another throughout the course of the season, and most importantly, continued to lay the foundation for Oak Hill’s continued success in the realm of girls’ basketball. 

“I’m not sure that I can verbally tell you how much I think of these kids,” Bolser said with a smile. “They accepted me in a situation where they didn’t know me at all. We went through our bumps in the road, but they fought and they battled, and we developed a relationship that I am extremely proud of. They fought until the last second of this game. That’s a remarkable thing that I think speaks volumes for not only our community, but their parents and our school in general. I’m extremely proud of this group and the progress we’ve made.”  

While Biddle, Hornocker, Leak, Lori Miller, and Selah Jackson, who each played their final games in an Oak Hill uniform, will be tough to replace, the Golden Eagles have a solid nucleus to build around with players like Alston, Joy McDivitt, Treniti Thurman, Melissa Kluevein, and others returning. 

And Bolser can’t wait to get started again.  

“It’s hard to say goodbye to this group of seniors, but we…are going to build this program to a point where we feel very confident in it,” Bolser said. “We are going to work with them. We are going to have a good, solid offseason, and come back [and] hopefully be stronger.”

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