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Turnovers costly in Oak Hill's loss to Norwell

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DISH: Oak Hill's Abby Shaw passes over a Norwell defender in the Eagles' 63-45 season-opening loss to the Knights Wednesday night.
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DISCUSS: Oak Hill coach Todd Law talks to senior Taylor Westgate during the fourth quarter of the Eagles' 63-45 loss to Norwell Wednesday night.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

CONVERSE -- Oak Hill girls basketball coach Todd Law knew there would be a learning curve for his relatively inexperienced team coming into the 2019-20 season, and the Golden Eagles showed they may be fairly quick learners in their opener against Norwell Wednesday night.

However, the Class 3A fourth-ranked Knights gave the Eagles a tough lesson through the first half, using a tenacious full-court pressing and trapping defense to force 18 Oak Hill turnovers and build a 38-18 lead at intermission.

Though Oak Hill outscored Norwell through the final 16 minutes, the Knights persevered to earn a 63-45 win. 

 

"We knew this was going to be a tough challenge tonight, Norwell is ranked No. 4 in 3A for a reason," said Law, who had three players making their first varsity starts against the young but seasoned Knights. "They're still young but they've got a lot of experience back, they've got a lot of (juniors) that played a lot of minutes last year for them.

"We knew they were going to bring this intense pressure," he continued. "We've been working on it, trying to simulate it the best we can, but obviously you can't simulate what they were going to bring. We turned it over way too many times and we gave them 17 points off of those turnovers."

In fact, the difference in the final score can be traced almost directly to the Knights' 17-0 advantage in points off of turnovers. Oak Hill came up with 11 steals in turning Norwell over 15 times, but didn't convert any of those opportunities into easy baskets.

The Golden Eagles fell behind quickly, making four turnovers in their first five possessions, and digging an 8-2 hole. When Oak Hill got into its offense, senior Indiana All Star candidate Taylor Westgate used her skill in the post to score eight-first quarter points and keep the game close. Senior guard Abby Shaw scored her first bucket of the game with 2:33 remaining in the first quarter to pull the Golden Eagles within 12-10.

But the Knights scored the final seven points of the opening period to extend to a 19-10 lead, then took advantage of seven Eagles' turnovers in the final four-plus minutes of the first half and close with a 15-2 run and build their 20-point halftime advantage. 

Norwell's lead grew to as much as 25 late in the third quarter, but Oak Hill kept battling away throughout the second half and outscored the Knights 16-12 over the final eight minutes.

"The thing I was really pleased tonight, the kids never gave up, they kept fighting, they played hard and we ended up winning the second half," Law said. "That told me something right there. In that third quarter they could have rolled over and this thing could have been a 40 point game.

"They showed me something tonight, we talked about it, you've got to buy into the process and continue to work hard in practice and try to correct things and get better," he added. "I think we will. When you've got a team like we have, there is so much room for growth and that's what we've got to stay focused on."

Westgate started her senior campaign by hitting 9-of-12 field goal attempts and 12-of-16 free throws to finish with a game-high 30 points. She also pulled down 14 rebounds and helped Oak Hill win the battle on the boards, 29-24. Westgate also finished with four blocked shots, three assists and two steals while playing through picking up two fouls in the first six minutes of the game.

"We took her out there just to calm her down and she and I had a little conversation," Law said of Westgate. "My last several years. with the depth that we had, if you got two fouls in the first half you were done until the third quarter. I just wanted to get her little rest so she didn't get a fatigue foul or something. I told her you're gong to have to learn to play with fouls. ... She's a smart kid and came in and controlled that for the rest of the game."

Shaw finished with nine points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals while senior Coleena Selleck, junior Carlee Biddle and sophomore Nikki Alston, all who were seeing their first extensive varsity experience, chipped in with two points apiece. Selleck added four rebounds, two assists and three steals.

Junior Kaylee Fuelling led Norwell with 15 points while senior Breann Barger and junior Lauren Bales added 14 and 11, respectively.

Oak Hill shot a higher percentage from the field than did Norwell, 41 to 37, but the Knights attempted 62 shots to only 34 for the Eagles. Norwell also hit 5-of-21 from three-point range while Shaw hit the Eagles only triple in eight attempts by the team. 

"Experience is such a huge thing. Our first four possessions were turnovers, some of that was nerves but some of that was from our seniors," Law said. "The speed, the physicality of the game tonight, I think both ways they let them play. A lot of reaching and grabbing so you've got to be really strong with the ball, we talked about that before the game. We did a better job with that in the second half.

"If you can take a game and from the first half to the second half you can see improvement in kids ... then that's a good first step," he continued. "Obviously the goal is to win the game, but I knew this was going to be a huge challenge in this one. I'm not disappointed in it. There was a lot of things we saw that we could build on."

Oak Hill was originally scheduled to play at Peru on Friday, but the Tigers' football team is hosting a sectional championship game forcing a postponement until Dec. 4. The Eagles will return to the court on Tuesday when Marion visits for a 7:30 p.m. tip.