Over the course of the past month, the Oak Hill Golden Eagles have played some really outstanding basketball.
On offense, everybody has found their role. On defense, the entire team has bought in, striving to lock their opponents down night in and night out.
But most importantly, the Golden Eagles have discovered their identity, and that has played a major factor in their recent success.
Behind another stout defensive effort, a few tremendous individual performances, and a strong fourth quarter, the Golden Eagles recorded their 11th victory of the season, defeating the Tipton Blue Devils by a score of 57-52 last Tuesday evening.
Oak Hill was efficient on offense all evening, finishing the contest shooting 50 percent (22-of-44) from the floor.
On the defensive end of the floor, the Golden Eagles shined, holding the Blue Devils to just 19-of-54 shooting (35 percent) from the field and a paltry seven-of-26 (27 percent).
“We mixed up our defense a little bit in what we were doing with the matchup 2-3 zone,” Oak Hill Head Coach Kevin Renbarger said. “We went to more of a 1-2-2, and everybody was more comfortable to do what they needed to do. This team tonight we held 15 points under their average, and we’ve been consistently doing that. Defensively, we’ve been able to be really, really good.”
The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team leading by more than two points in the first eight minutes. Oak Hill led at the first quarter break, 12-10, after freshman Landon Biegel scored with 32 seconds remaining.
The Golden Eagles started to create some separation in the second quarter. Holding a slim one-point advantage, a Peyton Harts three with 5:17 remaining in the first half put Oak Hill up four, and several nice backdoor cuts in a row from Tahj Johnson, all coming off crisp passes from Tristen Hayes, gave them a 26-20 advantage in the final minute.
Oak Hill increased their lead to nine on a three from Kody Dubois with 36 seconds remaining, but a desperation heave from Tipton’s Ben Humrichous found twine, making it a 29-23 Golden Eagles’ advantage at halftime.
After a strong first half, the game almost got away from Oak Hill in the third quarter.
Hayes opened the second half with a basket in the paint, and moments later, Johnson converted a three-point play to give the Golden Eagles their biggest lead of the contest at 11.
But for the next 6:01, their offense sputtered. Not only did they not score in that time frame, but they turned the ball over seven times as well.
And Tipton took advantage.
From the 6:52 mark to the 51 second mark in the quarter, the Blue Devils embarked on a 12-0 run, turning their 11-point deficit into a one-point lead.
However, the Golden Eagles did not break, as Hayes was able to break the scoreless drought in the final minute of the period, giving Oak Hill a 36-35 edge heading into the final frame.
Looking for some much needed bench relief early in the fourth, Renbarger turned to a young man who many thought would not see a minute of action this season – Kian Hite.
Hite, who was expected to be a major part of the Oak Hill rotation, broke his ankle right after football season came to an end – an injury that would require surgery. But through tireless work and rehab, Hite was cleared to play before the game began.
Hite did not score any points, but he forced two key turnovers in the first three minutes of the final stanza, each time leading to Oak Hill points.
“All the way up until yesterday, we debated on whether he was even going to play JV. He got in and played some JV minutes, and looked far better than he had at any point and time, physically, during practice,” Renbarger said. “It solidified in my mind that if we had an opportunity to use him in the second half, we would. That three or four minute stretch was probably the difference in the game.”
Hite’s presence on the floor helped to turn the game in Oak Hill’s favor for good. After scoring just seven points in the third, the Golden Eagles, behind Hite’s sturdy defensive play, opened the frame on an 8-0 run, which extended their lead back to nine points.
Their advantage was never threatened again, and they hit several key shots down the stretch to help secure the victory.
“This team a month and a half ago…would have folded pretty easily,” Renbarger said. “But the group we have now focused and locked in a little more on defense and executed on offense, and we were able to push it out to a 10-point lead again.”
Johnson put together another sound showing on Tuesday, leading the Golden Eagles in both points (16) and rebounds (nine). In his senior season, Johnson has grown significantly. In his previous three years, he was an athlete who played basketball, but throughout the course of this season, he has blossomed into a stout two-way star.
“He is playing under control and within himself,” Renbarger said. “He has developed an outside jumper, which has helped his drive game, but more important than anything, you are starting to see a senior sense of urgency. He is using what he has best, which is athleticism, and he is using that to the best of his ability. He knows where he can attack with his athleticism. He’s doing a really great job.”
Hayes finished the contest with 12 points, which included a perfect four-of-four shooting in the second half, as did Biegel, who provided a spark off the bench.
In his first year as a varsity basketball player, there have been growing pains, but over the last month, Biegel has transformed him into a solid contributer and a key cog in Oak Hill’s machine.
“Landon has just stepped in and really progressed the way that we have want him to progress,” Renbarger said. “That’s what we are looking for out of him. More than anything, it’s just confidence. [Lots of] nice progression out of him.”
And while he only scored six points, Ryan Pederson shined once again. The 6-7 center, who was made a starter a month ago, has lifted Oak Hill’s defensive play to new heights, and his steady presence underneath the basket keeps opposing offenses at bay.
“The defense helps the confidence on the offensive end of the floor,” Renbarger said. “We’ve locked in, and the insertion of Ryan Pederson has made the biggest of differences with this team. What Ryan gives us on the back line of that defense makes some second guessing take place. He has really been our MVP the last month or so, and it’s really elevated our game.”
For Tipton, Humrichous led the team in scoring with 19 points, while Noah Wolfe was second on the team with eight.