Braves fall to Jackets in league-deciding showdown

By Eric Cline

February 11, 2014

MOUNT VERNON — Teachable moments in basketball usually come from adversity. Mount Vernon’s teachable moment came last Friday night in Lewis Center. Olentangy’s came Monday night at “The Hive.”

Having learned the lessons of their 20-point loss to the Braves on Friday night, the host Yellow Jackets turned their game around on both sides of the ball and shot the lights out of the gym en route to a 58-48 Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division victory over the Braves, clinching an outright league title.

“It’s all a learning experience,” Olentangy coach John Feasel said. “I told the girls after the game we still have big games to play this year, and a lot of the girls have bigger games to play in their high school careers, but it’s still tough to lose these games. We’ll learn from this, we’ll improve what we need to improve and become a better team.”

Olentangy (14-7, 12-2 OCC Capital) faced a much different looking Mount Vernon (19-2, 13-1) team from the one it saw Friday. Instead of running their conventional offense, the Yellow Jackets spread the floor and ran their four corners scoring attack, dubbed the “Four-To-Score.”

That decision did two things: First, it forced the Braves to go to a man-to-man defense instead of running their own zone, and second, it opened the middle of the floor, allowing Mount Vernon to exploit the wide open lane.

“On Friday at their place, they took it from us quite a bit in our half court offense,” Mount Vernon coach Doug Savage said. “Every time we’d try to drive the lane, there was always help, so I decided to spread the floor a little more so we’d have more space to drive and make it harder for them to help on defense.”

The other important thing Mount Vernon did was to run a zone defense, which forced the Olentangy offense to patrol the perimeter and take lower-percentage shots. That gamble paid off for Mount Vernon, as Olentangy had trouble getting shots to fall all evening.

“We haven’t really played very much zone this year,” Savage said. “We’ve usually been the aggressor in our games. Our guards are disruptive and we’ve been the quicker team, but Olentangy’s guards are hard to keep in front of you, especially (junior) Morgan Horvath. We decided if we packed in a zone, they’d go around the outside a little more and not so much north and south, and I thought, for the most part, our zone was effective.”

“They played a lot more zone against us tonight,” Feasel said. “We worked on that a little bit in practice, and we cut it down to eight in the third quarter a couple of times, but we’d miss a shot here and there and have a possession with a turnover. They put themselves in their comfort zone in their offense and got us out of our tempo. They went to the four-to-score, spread us out and forced us to play man defense.”

Olentangy shot just 6 of 26 (23 percent) from the field in the first half and was 0 for 5 from three-point range. Even hitting from the foul line was tough for the Braves, who went 4 for 11 (36 percent) from the charity stripe in the first 16 minutes.

“It’s like I told the girls, you have trouble winning when you miss seven free throws in the first half,” Feasel said. “We just didn’t make shots. We were down 11 points at the half, and it’s easier playing the game when you’re up by 11 than up three. You just have to make shots to win in big games to win in this league.”

Mount Vernon did most of its damage with two large scoring runs. The Braves scored the first five points of the contest over the first four minutes plus, but the Jackets went on a 9-1 run to finish the quarter, with freshman forward Taylor Gregory scoring eight points, including a pair of conventional three-point plays.

Olentangy trailed 9-6 after the first and cut the deficit to a point when junior post Rachel Womeldorf followed her own miss early in the second quarter, but Mount Vernon exploded after that, going on an 18-3 run over a five-minute span to take a 27-11 lead with under two minutes left before the half.

Olentangy scored the last five points of the half and trimmed the lead back to eight twice in the third quarter, with Horvath scoring eight of the team’s 12 points in the period, but the Braves missed their first six shots from the floor in the final quarter, and Mount Vernon used a 7-1 run to extend the lead back to 15 points, 43-29, with 4:38 to play.

Mount Vernon would secure the game from the foul line, going 18 of 24 from the stripe in the fourth quarter, including a 14 of 18 stretch in the final two minutes. Horvath, Womeldorf and senior wing Rachel Hyburg helped lead the Braves on a strong scoring run at the end of the game, but it wasn’t enough.

Horvath had game highs with 24 points, 15 rebounds (10 offensive) and three assists for Olentangy. Womeldorf added 14 points, including a pair of late threes, plus eight rebounds.

Hyburg added three points for Olentangy and freshman Allison Raiff had two. Sophomore guard Christina Baumann also had a game-high five steals for the Braves.

“They really did a job trying to stop Morgan and Kelly tonight, and they did a good job on one of them,” Feasel said. “Hats off to Mount Vernon and coach Savage. They’re 19-2 for a reason.”

Mount Vernon balanced its scoring well, with Rachel Parks pumping in 15 points to lead the Jackets. Sierra Basista had 14 points with two threes, while Gregory and Sammy Cunningham had 10 points each, Gregory leading the team with eight rebounds.