Big shots do not happen without a reason, and many times the reason is a furious comeback.
Such was the case for the Big Walnut Golden Eagles, who trailed by nine points at half and eight after three-quarters, but outscored Olentangy 14-5 in the final quarter, capped by junior guard Makenna Hammond’s game-winning three-pointer from the left corner, to defeat the host Braves 50-49 in Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division action last Friday night at Olentangy High School.
The win was Big Walnut’s (9-5, 4-5 OCC Capital) first over Olentangy (9-5, 7-1) since December 2, 2008, the Golden Eagles’ first road win over the Braves since November 20, 2007, and a far cry from their 59-38 loss to the Braves at home on Saturday, January 11, when Olentangy fueled its win with an 18-2 opening quarter.
“We were able to grind one out,” Big Walnut head coach Steve Palmer said. “They blew us out at our place last Saturday, so we wanted to come out a little better. We pressed well, but were still a little impatient on the offensive side and we didn’t take the shots we wanted. At halftime, we talked about shot selection and rebounding, and I thought we did an excellent job of getting better shots in the second half and keeping them off the offensive boards.”
“That’s Big Walnut,” Olentangy coach John Feasel said. “Once they’re into a ballgame, they’re in until the final buzzer. We talk a lot about trying to drown out hope, and we couldn’t do that in the fourth quarter. They knew they had a chance to win and they pounced on it.”
Missed shots proved fatal for the Braves in the fourth quarter. Olentangy hit just 2 of 11 (18 percent) shots from the floor in the final quarter and went 1 of 5 (20 percent) from the foul line.
“I told the girls afterward we have to score more than five points in a quarter in this league,” Feasel said. “It’s not like we didn’t try. It was a concerted effort to score, but a lot of our girls missed shots. It wasn’t like it was just one person. A lot of our girls missed a lot of shots we have to make in the fourth quarter.”
“They’re a good team,” Palmer said. “Horvath is tough, Meade is tough, Womeldorf is tough, and they’re going to come after you. They weren’t 7-0 in the league for nothing, so it was a good win for us with a tough stretch coming up.”
Big Walnut did start with a bang in the first three minutes of the quarter, sticking with Olentangy and taking a 6-4 lead, but the Braves went on a 14-3 run the rest of the way to take an 18-9 lead after one and extended the lead to 13 points, 28-15, with less than two minutes left before half.
The Golden Eagles closed back within eight before halftime and trailed 29-20 at the break, but consecutive buckets from senior Sara Petty started a 9-2 run early in the third quarter, cutting the Braves’ lead down to three points, 32-29, with six minutes left in the period.
Olentangy quickly pushed it back to seven points on back-to-back buckets from junior Rachel Womeldorf, only to have Hammond drain a three to cut the lead back to four. Big Walnut would trim that deficit back to four twice more before buckets from junior Morgan Horvath and Womeldorf in the final two minutes gave Olentangy a 44-36 lead after three.
But in the fourth quarter, Big Walnut slowed the tempo and the Braves had trouble getting shots to fall. Olentangy missed their first nine shots of the quarter in the first four and a half minutes, and a pair of hoops from Big Walnut senior Skylar Fleak and another from senior Hannah Seawell again hacked the deficit back to two points, 44-42, with 3:41 to play.
“It wasn’t a bad effort, but we gave up 50 points,” Feasel said. “We’ve got to play better defense in the man-to-man and we need to get more pressure, and we have to set the tempo higher. We can’t play a slow, half-court offense, we need to get up-tempo and play our game.”
Horvath would convert a three-point play after that, then get another bucket following a Big Walnut miss, to put the Braves back up by seven points, 49-42, with 2:23 left, but Fleak buried a jumper in the paint off a Hammond pass shortly after and Hammond hit a bucket of her own off a Fleak feed to trim Olentangy’s lead back to three, 49-46.
After Olentangy missed the front end of a one-and-one, Big Walnut went to the line, and Seawell canned the first of two, putting the Golden Eagles back within two points, 49-47, with 26.3 seconds to go.
The Braves would again get another chance at the foul line, but missed the front end of another one-and-one chance with 22.3 seconds left. Hammond hauled in the rebound, and the Golden Eagles ran their offense until Seawell found Hammond on the left baseline, and Hammond drained her triple with five seconds left.
The Braves called a pair of time outs afterward with 1.2 seconds left, but after the inbound pass, could not get even a desperation shot off before the final horn.
“Our kids played hard and never gave up,” Palmer said. “When you get down so early like we did in that first game, it’s hard to stay positive, but we talked about getting that third quarter score down little by little. We only got a point back in the third but we were still with them, but the kids battled and did an excellent job in the fourth quarter and followed through with the game plan.”
Fleak topped all scorers with 19 points, adding a team-high eight rebounds plus three assists. Hammond finished with 13 points, helped by a pair of threes, including the game-winner, while adding three rebounds and three assists. Petty added nine points and seven boards, and Seawell six points, three rebounds and a game-high tying four assists.
Horvath topped the Olentangy scoring with 18 points, including two treys, also adding game highs with 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Sophomore Kelly Meade closed with 11 points plus two assists, while Womeldorf finished with 10 points, four boards and two blocks.
BIG WALNUT 54, MARION HARDING 30 — The Golden Eagle girls started both halves with a surge in cruising to a 54-30 non-conference win over visiting Marion Harding last Tuesday night (January 14) in Sunbury.
Big Walnut (8-5) raced out to a 20-11 lead after the first quarter and, although they outscored the Presidents 13-9 in the second to build a 33-20 advantage, the Golden Eagles did not play their best basketball until the third — a period they won 13-2 to open up a 46-22 advantage to all but seal the deal.
Both teams finished with eight points in the fourth to account for the final margin.
Makenna Hammond and Skylar Fleak led the Eagles with double-digit scoring numbers, Hammond with 13 points and Fleak with 11 in the win. Hannah Seawell was also steady, finishing with eight points.