NAMPA – After years of coaching the Oakley High School girls basketball team, Matt Payton knows one can never be sure how teenagers will react to tough situations.
So Payton was especially proud of the way his Hornets bounced back from what could have been a devastating setback.
Oakley (23-1) earned a 39-20 first-round victory over Grace at the 1A Division I state basketball tournament Thursday at Columbia High School.
“They responded well. They didn’t let one game define us,’’ Payton said. “I’m very proud of the way they came out tonight and did what they had to do.’’
It hasn’t been that long since Shoshone halted the Hornets’ 22-game win streak in the Snake River Conference championship game, but this group took the first step in vanquishing that memory, senior Rachael Mitton said.
“That was a wake-up call for us,’’ said Mitton, who finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four blocked shots Thursday against the Grizzlies (13-12). “We’d had a normal type of season, but we were making little mistakes. There were details we needed to take care of. I’m happy the way we played. I think we picked it up tonight.’’
One thing helped pick it back up for Oakley, which was turning up the defense, from one baseline to the other.
“We played them earlier this year and they didn’t press us,’’ Grace coach Jason Nance said of Oakley’s 52-18 victory in December. “We’d faced pressure before against other teams, but we didn’t handle things well tonight. It was a little rough.’’
Opening in what Payton called their “diamond’’ press, the Hornets opened a 12-4 advantage at the end of one period of play and bumped that up to a 22-9 lead at intermission thanks to a 8-0 run over the final 1:46 of the half. Grace was guilty of 29 turnovers for the game, with 26 of Oakley’s points coming off those giveaways.
“We were a little nervous at first, but the defense got our energy up, and after that we felt great,’’ Mitton said. “I’m very happy with the way we played defense.’’
Oakley held the Grizzlies to single digits in all four quarters, including four-point shutdowns in the first and third periods. Grace did pull to within 26-20 with 4:38 left, but the Hornets responded with a 13-0 run to set up Friday’s semifinal game.
“We did a good job with our pressure. We didn’t shoot the ball that well tonight, but we got some turnovers and were able to pull away,’’ said Payton.
While Mitton was the only Hornet to finish in double figures in the low-scoring affair, Brynn Westover had seven points, and Jaclyn Wybenga and Brittany Hardy both had six points with Hardy pulling down seven rebounds.
“On any given night we have a number of girls who can step up for us,’’ Payton said. “I’m very confident going way down our bench. We just need to shoot the ball a little better, and we’ll be fine.’’
Oakley will take on Lapwai Friday at 8 p.m. back at Columbia.