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Short-handed Warriors girls secure close win against Franklin County

Oconee County High School sophomore Lydia Gay (24) and junior Julie Azeltine (5) celebrate the Warriors’ win over Franklin County. (Stuart Steele)

The Oconee County girls basketball team defeated Franklin County 60-55 last Friday in a tightly contested game.

The Warriors showed impressive resilience, battling with Franklin County while down multiple key players. Juniors Elizabeth Wynn and Hannah Wiggins were unavailable for the game due to illness, and freshman Megan Miller was not cleared to play. Wynn and Miller are Oconee County’s tallest players, and without them, the Warriors lacked size.

Franklin County was able to take advantage at times, pounding the ball inside and getting numerous offensive rebounds. The Warriors had less players in their rotation, and therefore there were times when fatigue set in.

Head coach Katie David said it was a challenge adjusting for missing players on short notice, but credited her players for giving it their all regardless.

“I knew the girls were sick, but I didn’t find out about Megan until around 3:30,” David said. “It was really tough, but we decided to not make it an excuse and try our best, and they prevailed.”

Guard Sadie Hale had to play in the post for large portions of the game, doing her best to slow down Franklin County’s bigs down low. The Warriors did a good job defensively of forcing turnovers as the game wore on, anticipating passes inside well.Oconee County was able to gut it out down the stretch and make enough plays to pull out the win. Julie Azeltine had another big night, scoring 26 points, including four clutch free throws late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.

David spoke about Azeltine’s maturation and the trust she has from her teammates and coaches in late-game situations.

“She’s grown so much within the last six months in her mistake response. If she makes a mistake, I feel like she’s grown so much to just let that propel her to the next play. In the end that breeds confidence and it breeds self belief,” David said. “She was able to step up there and know her teammates have her back and we believe in her, make or miss. And even if she’d missed them, if we had the same opportunity, we would have gone to her again.”

Freshman Eliza Oechsle added 16 points in a strong effort. Oechsle and Azeltine have been the Warriors’ primary ball-handlers and scorers this season, but freshman Jill Daniel came up big against Franklin County with 10 points. Daniel added a third scoring option, which was particularly important given the players her team was missing.

“She’s become quite a dependable player, and one thing that she was able to do late in the game is really move well without the ball. She did that at Stephens County too,” David said. “We didn’t look really sharp last Tuesday [against Stephens]. Very lackadaisical. I told the team ‘we all look a little bit in a fog, except for Jill.’ And she brought that same intensity tonight.”

Oconee County showed growth from its close win over North Oconee in January, successfully inbounding the ball three straight times in the dying minutes of the game to get over the line with the win against Franklin County. Against the Titans, an inbound pass late in the game was intercepted, giving NOHS a last shot to tie or win the game.

The Warriors fell against Hart County on Tuesday night. Oconee County currently sits at 14-10 and third place in the region, and will play at Monroe Area on Friday in the final game of the regular season.

David said her team has improved as the season has gone along, and credited the players’ hard work and focus for that improvement.

“I think the identity of the team has become one that can adapt to different opponents. I feel like they’ve done a great job with executing what we work on in pregame and what we work on the day before practice,” David said. “Their basketball IQ is the one thing that has improved the most, and I give them credit for coming to practice every day so determined, so focused. We just have some really sharp young ladies.”

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