Olentangy coach John Feasel admitted his girls were caught by surprise by Westland in their first tournament game, so they took steps to remedy that in their next contest.
Olentangy got out to a strong start, helped by a number of Hayes turnovers, and the Braves moved on to district competition with a 70-38 victory over the Pacers in a Division I Central District Sectional Championship game Tuesday night at Orange High School.
Next up for Olentangy (20-2) is Hilliard Bradley, who got a late bucket to knock off the Braves in a Division II district championship game last year.
“We played hard,” Feasel said. “We came out ready to go. We talked about what we needed to do to get out to a good start and play hard. We had a good start, but I thought we had a great effort to begin with.”
The Braves scored the first five points of the game only to see Hayes (10-12) get a bucket and three free throws to tie the score at five with 6:43 left in the opening period.
But after that came the mistakes. The Pacers committed nine turnovers in the opening period and 10 more in the second quarter, allowing Olentangy to grab the lead and hold onto it.
The Pacer turnovers did much to help the Braves effort. Olentangy had 26 points off turnovers in the game, including 16 in the first half.
“Turnovers absolutely killed us,” Hayes coach Erin Margraf said. “That was the name of the game tonight. We were on track to 40 turnovers by halftime, and Olentangy did a very good job of turning those turnovers into points. We were constantly playing catch-up.”
The Braves defense not only caused turnovers, but helped keep the Pacers’ shot totals down. Hayes took just 14 shots in the first half and made six, while Olentangy had 14 made baskets in the first 16 minutes.
“We played pretty solid defense tonight,” Feasel said. “There were some times in the zone when they got some open looks and that’s the type of thing we have to work on, but our man-to-man is coming around. The kids are playing hard, and that’s the most important thing.”
“They had a big first quarter, and to hit shots early takes a little steam out of you — takes a little confidence out of you,” Margraf said. “Losing that causes you to be a little more nervous and you’re more likely to turn the ball over. We just couldn’t get that confidence back.”
One of the biggest stories was the play of Olentangy senior Ronnie Kenley, who played her first three seasons of high school basketball at Hayes before transferring.
With the Braves playing without juniors Lydia Hyburg and Brooke Zwayer and sophomore Ganiru Anunike, Kenley was a force in the paint, blocking four shots while hauling in seven rebounds while scoring six points.
“Ronnie was pumped for this game the whole week,” Feasel said. “I just told her to settle down and let the game come to her. She had four blocks, some big rebounds and a couple put-backs, and that’s what she can do to help contribute to our team. With Lydia out, we needed that.”
“We know Olentangy fairly well and we know Ronnie very well,” Margraf said. “We know she likes to block shots, so we talked a lot this week about giving good head fakes. It took a little while, but we did get some good looks and get some fouls out of her when we did go to the head fakes.”
Senior Nicole Payne topped all scoring with 14 points for Olentangy. Juniors Gina Miccinilli and Megan Beidelman added 12 points apiece, while junior Courtney Hale finished with nine points off the bench. Junior Katie Heath also had six points for the Braves.
“We have a pretty deep bench, and we played without two all-league players tonight and ended up scoring 70 points,” Feasel said. “We’re getting healthy and we starting to play a little bit better, and that’s what you’ve got to see at tournament time.”
Hayes sophomore Julie Bauer was active all evening long on both sides of the ball, and led the Pacers with 12 points. Senior Keshawna Ximines had eight points in her final game with the Pacers, while sophomore Kristen McMillen closed with seven points.