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It was a tale of two halves last Thursday night when the Oconee County girls basketball team took down Athens Christian 66-62.
The first half was a sight to behold as the Warriors came out with a lot of energy, hitting their shots and playing tough defense, opening up a 47-31 halftime advantage. The team looked cohesive and ready to make a point in its first game of the new year.
The second half was much less consistent, as the offense struggled to maintain the breakneck pace it played with in the first half. Points were heard to come by, and Athens Christian was putting the pressure on, forcing several turnovers and cashing in on those with baskets to get back in the game.
With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Warriors lead was 62-59. The last sequence of the game was when they showed the resilience that is a common trait among winning teams. The turnovers that had plagued the second half went away and they played strong defense, doing just enough to hang on for a close win.
While any team would like to play the way the Warriors did in the first half all the time, being able to play through tougher stretches and situations where shots aren’t falling and the other team is capitalizing on mistakes is key, because it’s unrealistic to expect to play at that high level at all times.
Oconee County head coach Katie David said her young team is continuing to grow as the season goes along.
“They’re really maturing through those moments. We’ve had some tough games, we’ve had some tough opponents, and that is the point, to prep you for Region play, to line up against girls that know how to win, and that team knows how to win,” David said. “They’re a strong team, and they’re bigger than us. The last few practices for us have been outstanding, and I think that’s transferred to what you saw today.”
The leading scorers for Oconee County were junior Julie Azeltine with 20 points and freshman Eliza Oechsle with 19 points. Azeltine’s impressive night was par for the course for her this season, as she has been the team’s most consistent scorer.
Oechsle’s strong scoring performance, combined with a calmness shown when handling the ball were very encouraging signs for the freshman, who looks set to play a key part in the Warriors’ season down the stretch.
“Eliza was the engine. I turned to the bench somewhere in the first half and said ‘that girl came to play tonight.’ She is only a freshman, so we knew that the start could be up or down. We knew we were going to start her in the summer. She came in ready,” David said. “Her skills are really good. She handles the ball for us, and she was willing to step up and defend some of their better players tonight.”
Junior center Elizabeth Wynn deserves immense credit for the role she played in the win over the Eagles. Athens Christian had a noticeable size advantage, and Wynn did an excellent job of defending their tallest players throughout the night. Cutting off the easy passes to the Eagles’ bigs and making it tough for them to find open looks threw off the rhythm of their offense, forcing their perimeter players to settle for tough shots at times.
“I don’t know if others overlook her, I feel like sometimes that can be the case if you’re not putting up 18 a game. She is an absolute enforcer on defense, she is an incredible defender and she knows how to do it without fouling,” David said. “She’s learning to be more and more physical, and she changes shots. Tonight she was a neutralizer for their bigs. They have two. We just kept battling. We just said low player wins, continue to box out, we just hung our hat on that all week in practice.”
Oconee County fell to Oglethorpe County on Saturday and Hebron Christian on Tuesday, and will play next on Friday night against Stephens County.