SHOSHONE — Few games have been tightly contested for the Oakley High School girls basketball team this season, but Shoshone gave the Hornets a tough road test on Thursday.
The No. 2-ranked Hornets had to dig their way out from an early deficit to rally back against No. 4 Shoshone, completing the regular season sweep of the Indians and keeping their perfect season intact at 14-0.
The first quarter started with an 5-0 Oakley run, but ended with a Shoshone lead. The Indians were able to adjust to the Hornets zone defense after a few possessions, and a team effort gave them a 10-6 lead by the end of the quarter.
Shoshone kept up the pace early in the second quarter, draining a couple layups in the first two minutes. But Oakley’s Makinlee Cranney and Blakely Payton made back-to-back 3-pointers, and then the Hornets began to draw fouls. The half ended in a 15-15 tie.
One thing the Hornets corrected out of halftime: rebounding. The Hornets’ roster lists four players at 5-foot-10 or above, while Shoshone only lists one. But the Indians were able to get into good positions in the first half for defensive boards.
“Our defense got much better into the second half,” Oakley head coach Matt Payton said. “We just told ourselves we had to keep working.”
As Oakley began to pull in rebounds on both sides of the court, it began to pull away from the Indians, ending the third quarter with a 30-23 lead.
After the Hornets scored twice to open the final quarter, Shoshone pulled the game to within five points. But a 3-pointer by Cranney followed by a jumper by Brittany Hardy, who led the game with 13 points, put the game out of reach.
The game was one of the toughest for Oakley this season. On average, the Hornets more than double their opponents scores, scoring 50.7 points while holding other teams to 24.3 points going into Thursday.
Matt Payton said travelling to Shoshone made for a harder test than usual.
“On the road in a tough environment like Shoshone, we just have to work,” he said. “It’s loud here. Kudos to Shoshone and their fans. We’re very proud of how our girls handled it and how they got it done.”
He said the team’s shooting was a struggle early on, and the team had to stay resilient. That was true for Cranney, who sank three 3-pointers — two to cut the early Shoshone lead and the final one to put the game out of reach — but missed five others in the process.
“Coach Payton is awesome, because he tells us, ‘If you miss two or three shots, you still need to have confidence,’” she said. “We have to take smart shots, but he has trust in us.”
The good news for Shoshone: there are two state tournament spots up for grabs from District 4. The only blemishes on its 13-2 record have come to the Hornets. So postseason redemption is still a possibility.
And it helps that eight of the Indians’ 10 varsity players are juniors, compared to just four on Oakley. The Indians will have a lot of experience as they try to avenge the sweep next season.
Cranney said Oakley still has goals to accomplish down the stretch, goals that have been set by the team, not the coaches.
“We told ourselves that we’re just going to work hard in games and practices and try to communicate with each other better each day,” she said.
Matt Payton knows that the season is by no means wrapped up, and the playoffs aren’t handed to the Hornets.
“I’m a firm believer that in girls basketball, anything can happen,” he said.
Oakley 41, Shoshone 31
Oakley 6 9 15 11 —4 1
Shoshone 10 5 8 6 — 31
OAKLEY (41) — Brittany Hardy 13, Brynn Westover 5, Blakely Payton 3, Makinlee Cranney 11, Rachael Mitton 9.
SHOSHONE (31) — Patti Fitzgerald 2, Bryanna Perry 1, Bailee Owens 10, Megan Koonce 2, Cierra Hennings 5, Rionna Kerner 6, Ari Regalado 5
Rachel Mitton of Oakley scored 16 against Shoshone in December, but has been held fairly quiet thus far in the game. She banks in a layup early this half though. 19-17 Oakley at the 6:39 mark 3rd Q. #shoshoneindians #oakleyhornets #idpreps pic.twitter.com/dqIPKhy9jO— Jake Crouse (@jake_crouse94) January 12, 2018