The Golden Eagles turned to their defense …
Following a competitive first half that saw Big Walnut clinging to a 19-17 lead against Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division rival Olentangy Orange, the Golden Eagles came back out with an active 2-3 zone defense to limit the Pioneers to four field goals and 11 points en route to a 44-28 victory last Wednesday night (January 8) in Sunbury.
Big Walnut (6-4, 2-4 OCC Capital) took control of the game by opening the second half with a 13-3 run to take a 12-point, 32-20 lead with 2:29 remaining in the third quarter. Senior Skylar Fleak, with 6 points on two baskets and two free throws, and junior Makenna Hammond, with 5 points on two baskets, including a trey led the charge
“Switching to our 2-3 zone defense turned the game in our favor,” Big Walnut head coach Steve Palmer said. “They hurt us inside in the first half. Going to the zone took away their inside game and forced them into turnovers that we took advantage of.”
Turnovers helped fuel the Golden Eagle run as Big Walnut’s first three baskets of the second half came as the result of Orange turnovers. Senior Sara Petty counted a rebound basket, Fleak sank a jumper from the lane and Hammond buried a 3-pointer for a 29-20 Golden Eagle lead with 3:41 remaining in the third period.
Fleak, dropping in a turnaround jumper from the baseline, and junior Eric Boehm, closing out the quarter with a steal-and-layin, sent Big Walnut into the final quarter with an 11-point, 34-23 advantage.
Olentangy Orange (1-8, 1-6 OCC Capital) was never closer than 10 points of the lead the rest of the way, going 4-for-13 from the field while turning the ball over 12 times in the second half.
“We are a young team that’s in a learning mode,” Orange first-year head coach Kelly Joseph said of her 12-player roster which includes five freshmen and two sophomores. “We did not handle Big Walnut’s 2-3 zone … that was the difference in the game. We didn’t move the ball quickly enough to get the open shot. Give Big Walnut credit, they did what they needed to do to win the game.”
The 12-player Pioneer roster includes five freshmen and two sophomores.
Big Walnut opened the fourth quarter with an 8-1 run to open up a 42-24 advantage on two free throws by senior Hayley Apple with 2:25 to lead to put the game out of reach in the final period. Petty keyed the run with back-to-back rebound baskets.
Three players, led by Fleak with 14 points, scored in double figures for Big Walnut. Petty followed with 12 and Hammond with 10. Junior forward Alexis Werling topped Orange with 9 points. Junior Mikaela Lyons followed with 7 points.
The Golden Eagles shot 39.0 percent (16-for-41) from the field while netting 9 of 13 free throws (69.2 percent), including 6 of 7 (85.7 percent) in the final period. The Pioneers were 10-for-35 (28.6 percent) from the field and 7-for-15 (46.7 percent) at the line.
Big Walnut, led by Fleak with game-leading 9 rebounds, claimed a 38-25 off the boards. Petty backed Fleak with 5 while junior Kailey Cagle and Hammond pulled down 4 apiece. Lyons paced Orange with 7 boards with Werling following with 4. The Golden Eagles turned the ball over 11 times in 51 possessions (21.6 percent), losing 8 points to the Pioneers. Orange committed 18 turnovers in 53 possessions (33.96 percent), losing 17 points to Big Walnut.
“We’re starting to play better as a team at both ends of the floor,” Palmer said of his Golden Eagles who have won three of their last four games with victories over Centerburg and Licking Valley. Their lone loss was a 2-point OCC setback at New Albany. “We want to build on our successes as we head into the second half of our season.”