MIER—The calling card of Oak Hill basketball throughout the winter has been to play stellar defense in both half- and full-court situations.
The Golden Eagles girls’ team used the matchup zone and a high pressure full-court press to earn a trip to the state championship game.
The Class 2A No. 3 Oak Hill boys’ team used the same tenacious style of defense to take its first step toward that end Wednesday night opening up Sectional 37 with a 52-29 win over Wabash.
Oak Hill struggled both shooting and ball handling early in the contest, committing five turnovers and hitting 4-of-10 from the floor, 0-of-4 from 3-point range in the opening eight minutes. But the Golden Eagles kept the Apaches scoreless for nearly four minutes and forced six Wabash turnovers to take a 9-8 lead at the break.
The second quarter was much the same except the Golden Eagles offense started to show signs of rhythm and low.
Wabash was limited to just four free throws until Luke Mattern stole a pass and splashed home a 3-pointer for the Apaches’ first field goal, but six more forced turnovers by Oak Hill sparked an 11-0 run just past the midway point of the period and the Golden Eagles took a 26-15 halftime advantage.
Despite the lead, Oak Hill coach Kevin Renbarger was less than thrilled with his team’s slow start. “It’s disappointing to say the least, and this is the second game in a row that we’ve come out and played a first half that was way below our expectations,” Renbarger said. “I don’t think it was nerves. I don’t know if it was a situation if they were looking at a team’s record. We thought we had done a good job of preparing them, but we were flat and our minds were elsewhere.”
Renbarger said his halftime message was the Golden Eagles focus wasn’t where it needed to be. He said it wasn’t a fiery halftime speech, but the message was well received and it showed in the third quarter.
Oak Hill started the second half with a 13-3 run in the first three plus minutes, forcing four turnovers and scoring easily and using its full-court press to speed the tempo and create more turnovers. After a Wabash basket, the Golden Eagles ran off seven more points to take a 46-20 lead and effectively put the game away.
“(Coach Renbarger) told us Wabash wasn’t going to come and just lay down, they were going to come and fight and that’s what they did in the first half,” Tyce Frank said of Renbarger’s halftime message.
“We needed to do the same thing so we came out in the second half and tried to step on them right away and put them away.”
Frank spearheaded Oak Hill’s third quarter charge by scoring 10 of his gamehigh 17 points. He also handed out three assists and had two steals. Spencer Ballinger added 11 points, five boards and two steals while David Arens chipped in 10 points.
Cal Mann also provided a spark in the third quarter, converting one of his two steals in the game for a layup then draining a 3-pointer on the Golden Eagles’ next possession. Mann finished with eight points, two rebounds and two assists.
Caleb Middlesworth added four points, five boards and two assists.
Wabash was led by Luke Mattern, who canned a trio of 3-pointers and finished with 11 points. Logan Vander Velden added 10 points for the Apaches. Wabash shot just 9-of-28 (32 percent) in the game.
“We really like to press. We like to use it to wear down our opponents, but also get steals off of it,” Ballinger said. “It does help us get going and it brings a lot of energy to the team.” Oak Hill (20-3) moves on to Friday’s sectional semiinals and a date with rival Southwood (19-4) at 7:30 p.m. The Knights jumped out to a big early lead and cruised to a 72-52 win over Northield.
The Golden Eagles won at Southwood 83-61 on Jan. 10. The 6 p.m. Friday semiinal at Oak Hill will match Manchester (7-16) against Rochester (5-16). The championship at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.