Aggressive team defense combined with unselfish offense translated into a blowout victory for Columbus East as the varsity girls opened the new year Friday at the Orange Pit with a 63-35 blasting of North Harrison.
The Olympians (6-5) took charge from the opening tip, running out to an 11-0 lead after forcing the Cats (8-4) into five turnovers in their first seven offensive possessions. Coach Danny Brown’s crew employed in-your-face defense throughout the first quarter and held the guests to five shots, with four of those coming from beyond the 3-point arc.
“We wanted to key on (Kendra) Lambert and not let her get going,” Brown said. “I thought we did a good job doing that as well as pushing the ball up the floor on offense.”
Leading 13-3 after the first quarter, East continued to control the action through the second period, forcing a total of 10 turnovers by intermission and holding Lambert, North Harrison’s leading scorer, to just a lone 3-pointer.
Meanwhile, the Olympians countered with the one-two punch of senior Allyson Bunch and sophomore Audrey Wetzel. They also saw perhaps the emergence of freshman Gracie Hatton. Together, the trio combined to score 46 points, grab 17 rebounds and garner seven steals.
Bunch finished with 16, including 11 straight points in a three-minute burst to start the third period. Her steal and lay-up at the 5:15 mark pushed the lead to 40-19, and she followed with her second trey just moments later to expand the lead even more.
Wetzel, the Olympians’ second-leading scorer on the season followed with 14 points, and also paced the team with four steals.
But the performance of Hatton was perhaps the evening’s biggest surprise.
After earlier scoring 14 points in one quarter of reserve action, the 6-foot Hatton matched Bunch in four quarters of varsity play with 16 points and six rebounds. She also blocked a pair of shots to make her presence felt on defense.
“Gracie had a great game tonight,” Brown said. “We wanted to give her a bit more playing time in both JV and varsity. I think (30) points in five quarters is pretty impressive.”
Hatton poured in 10 of her 16 points in the second period, including an offensive rebound and put-back just before the buzzer.
“I just wanted to play hard, run up and down the floor and rebound,” Hatton said. “I felt good and started to gain confidence after playing so well in the JV game.”
Brown said the effort of the trio was nice, but he was just as impressed with the rest of his team.
“We had 18 assists to just 12 turnovers,” he said. “That’s real nice to see and hope we can continue to build from that.”