Oak Hill solidified themselves as a team to beat this year in the MAIS Class AA after defending their home court against Kirk in a gritty 62-53 win Thursday night. The balanced Lady Raiders overcame foul trouble and an early deficit to knock off a pre-season top five team for the second time in their first four games. Coach Stan Hughey’s squad stuck with their identity of fast paced offense and full court pressure to build a comfortable lead midway through the game, but when the game got tight, Oak Hill adjusted and responded to Kirk’s rally by rebounding exceptionally well.
The Lady Raiders, now 4-0, were led once again by Rachel Herndon’s deadly shooting. The senior forward led Oak Hill with 20 points and 14 rebounds. After Kirk built an early 7-2 lead, Herndon got the ball rolling for the Lady Raiders by burying a three to spark an 11-2 run to close the first quarter with a 13-9 advantage. The Lady Raiders went into lock-down mode after the trey by Herndon and overwhelmed Kirk with their full-court pressure, forcing turnovers which resulted in easy buckets for Oak Hill.
The two teams traded buckets for the first minute of the second period before Maegen Ellis started a 9-3 run for the Lady Raiders by scoring an and-one layup and sinking a three pointer the next possession. Even with a ten point lead, Oak Hill remained relentless on defense, frustrating Kirk’s ball handlers and continually forcing them to make bad decisions. However, the physicality of the Lady Raiders resulted in several unwanted fouls for key players like Shay Atkins, who would eventually foul out with four points and nine rebounds. At the end of the first half, the home team led Kirk 32-18.
The third quarter was more of the same for both teams. While Kirk appeared to be rallying with two quick buckets to open the half, Rachel Herndon snuffed out the spark with two consecutive three pointers. However, Kirk pulled together a 6-0 run in the latter half of the quarter before Maegen Ellis closed out the period with a pair of freebies. With a 17 point lead,the game seemed to be in the books for the Lady Raiders, but Kirk would soon get their chance at a comeback win.
The atmosphere in Oak Hill’s gym was pleasant early in the fourth. The fans were satisfied, the student body was electric, and their Lady Raiders were holding on to a comfortable lead. However, things were soon to get hectic. Kirk fired off right out of the gates with a 5-0 start in the first 2:24 of the final period before Maegen Ellis scored to end the drought. With 4:05 left in the ballgame, Shay Atkins made her exit after picking up her fifth foul. The Lady Raiders seemed to be handling her absence well enough as they regained a 15 point lead. However, her ball handling ability was soon missed as Kirk turned the tables and full-court pressed Oak Hill. In addition, forwards Rachel Herndon and Bet Langley, who were first and third on the team in rebounding for the night, made untimely exits that allowed Kirk to sneak back into the game by feeding the ball inside and drawing fouls. Victory was in sight for Kirk with under 2 minutes remaining and a small 55-46 margin to overcome.
Guards Anna Ready and Maegen Ellis, who finished with 14 points each, proved to be the difference in the fourth quarter. As Kirk began fouling to save time on the clock, Maegen Ellis missed the front end of a one-and-one, but stole the ball back. Of course, she was fouled again, and this time converted both free throws to stretch their lead to 11. Kirk scored in response before fouling again. Ellis made one free throw before Kirk brought the lead down to seven with a quick three. Anna Ready came up in the clutch with a pair of free throws to seal the win for Oak Hill.
“This was a good win. I thought we came out and played well,” said Coach Stan Hughey after the game. “We had a great second quarter. That was the difference in the game. We just have to do a better job of closing teams out, but when you pick up so many fouls that is not an easy thing to do. We had some young girls step up and play some big minutes,” Hughey said, surely referring to Bet Langley’s solid performance with 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
Next up for Oak Hill is local rival Heritage Academy Tuesday at home. The junior high girls tip off the action at 4 p.m.