By Bob Jones
Special to the Daily
The opening game of a basketball season is rarely a thing of beauty, and the Northgate at Ola games were no exception to that rule. However, the Ola Lady Mustangs opened with a surprisingly comfortable 35-24 win over the Northgate Lady Vikings, and the Mustangs followed with a big comeback that resulted in a 40-38 overtime victory.
Lady Mustang head coach Chris Gardner listed senior Savannah Cook, junior Jordan Brown, junior Taylor Anderson, junior Laura Anderson, senior Hannah Kempton, and sophomore Jatora Jenkins as the key players on this year's squad, trying to improve upon a disappointing 2-22 campaign a year ago.
"This is the first year we've had such a large core of players with experience in our program," Gardner said.
"We've been a little outmanned the last few years because our more talented players have been freshmen and sophomores playing varsity against older players in a very difficult region. We expect to dramatically improve from last year's record. This group has more talent than we've had so far, more experience, and the best chemistry we've had yet."
Gardner said the Lady Mustangs needed balanced scoring, and that's just what he got in the season opener.
Brown and Laura Carter each scored nine, with Cook adding seven. The Lady Mustangs jumped out to a 13-2 lead early, and Ola was able to withstand the hot hand of Northgate's big Ana Anderson, who scored twelve quick points in the second half. The Lady Vikings got as close as 21-18 in the third before Ola regained control, outscoring Northgate 14-6 the rest of the way.
The Vikings were severely challenged by turnovers, committing 38 in the game. When turnovers exceed points, the outcome will rarely be good. But it was the Mustang defense that literally had a hand in the Northgate turnovers. Brown had seven steals and Anderson picked off five of her own. Ola won the game at the free throw line, sinking 17 of 23 to Northgate's 4 of 6.
Boys: Ola 40, Northgate 38 (OT)
Mustangs head coach Curt Miller was a bit worried before the game that the team had had very little time to practice together. "Only five of our young men (Tre McBride, Justin Gant, Alex Ta, D.J. Beard, and Brad Blount) were on the state playoff varsity team last year," said Miller. "We have great potential but it will take time for us to gel together as a team. But it is not how you start, it is how you finish and it is our hope that we are playing great basketball in early February. I know that our student section will be in full force and having that 6th man in the bleachers is very special to us."
After the boys game was tied four times early in the first, Northgate went on a 14-2 run that carried the Vikings to a 22-10 lead late in the second quarter. It seemed as if the opener was going to be a washout for Miller and the Mustangs. But despite a rather lackluster second, Ola deliberately worked its way back into the game with sound defense and opportunistic scoring. Perhaps a Viking gaffe at 6:36 of the third was the impetus. Coach Mack Cain sent in two subs, but the wrong players came off the floor. When the correct player went back onto the floor after play had resumed, a technical foul for six men on the floor was called. Ola's slow comeback was under way. Northgate shot just 3 of 30 (10%) in the second half and overtime.
The Mustangs whittled the 24-15 halftime deficit down to 31-27 after three, and then nobody scored for the first 3:33 of the fourth. At 2:30 Julian Thompson's one of two free throws finally tied the game at 31 with 2:30 to play. In the last minute the Vikings couldn't make a shot, and the Mustangs couldn't avoid turnovers. The horn sounded with the score at 33-33. Ola scored the first five points of the extra frame, and held off the Vikings with neither team looking like a state champ at this point. Exciting? Yes! Highlight reel to use as an instructional video? Oh, no!
D.J. Beard was the Mustang leading scorer with 23 points, and Thompson added 10 (only 1 basket and 8 of 14 from the line) to go with his 18 rebounds. Raheem Tutein led Northgate with 14 points, and Tyler Wallace added 10.