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With the District 4-A championship on the line, Oliver Springs junior Emily Griffith was not going to let the flu keep her down, as Griffith put on a show Tuesday night in leading the Lady ’Cats to a 56-53 victory over Oneida in the District 4-A Tournament championship game at Wartburg.
Griffith scored 25 points and dished out six assists despite being visibly tired at times in the contest.
“I wanted to play,” Griffith said when asked if missing the game was discussed. “That’s a tough team we played tonight and I wanted to do my job. I wasn’t going to miss this game.”
“That’s just Emily,” Lady ’Cat head coach Michelle Christopher added. “She’s got the flu, but I knew she would be ready. She plays with a lot of heart and determination; she has a great will to win.”
Emily Griffith, however, wasn’t the only Lady ’Cat player that came out ready to go. According to Christopher, the entire squad came out with something to prove as most people had tabbed the Lady Indians the favorite entering the contest.
“We came out focused tonight,” Christopher said. “Most people thought we couldn’t do this and that gave us a lot of motivation. Our girls played hard and everybody was focused.”
The Lady ’Cats might have been focused, but they found themselves in an early hole as the Lady Indians used a 14-2 run late in the period to take a 22-12 lead before Emily Griffith hit two free throws and Rachel Griffith buried a 3-pointer to pull Oliver Springs to within 22-17 after eight minutes of play.
Regular season District 4-A MVP Micah Stephens had a great start for Oneida, scoring 11 points for the Lady Indians. Oliver Springs countered with eight points from Courtney Jones and six from Emily Griffith.
The second period would see both defenses tighten up. It would also see the Lady ’Cats chipping away at Oneida’s lead until both teams went into halftime tied at 28-28.
Emily Griffith had a big second quarter for Oliver Springs, scoring eight points, but the key to the period for the Lady ’Cats was holding Stephens to one point.
“We didn’t stop them in transition in the first quarter,” Christopher said. “Their guards were able to get the ball up the floor quick and they were getting a lot of easy baskets inside. We did a better job after that of containing their guards after the first quarter.”
The second half started with the teams trading points before Oliver Springs put together the only significant run of the period. Trailing 36-34, the Lady ‘Cats used a 3-pointer from Rachel Griffith to spark an 8-0 Lady ‘Cat run before Oneida scored the final basket of the period to pull within 42-38 with eight minutes left to play.
Oneida closed to within 44-42 when Stephens scored with 5:48 left to play, but that’s when Oliver Springs delivered what was pretty much the knockout blow. The Griffith twins scored eight points and Lauren Morgan drained a 3-pointer as Oliver Springs used an 11-0 run to take a 55-42 lead with 2:25 left to play.
Oneida, however, wouldn’t quit. Three baskets from Baylee Newport sparked an 8-1 run that pulled the Lady Indians to within 56-50 with 31 seconds left.
Oliver Springs then missed a front end of a one-and-one and Oneida’s Rachael Thomas hit a 3-pointer that made the score 56-53 with 15 seconds left.
Oliver Springs missed another front end of a one-and-one with 8.7 seconds left as Oneida had life. The Lady Indians raced down court where Newport got a good look at a 3-pointer. Newport’s shot almost fell, but it rimmed out as Oliver Springs held on for the win.
Besides Emily Griffith’s big night, Jones (14 points) and Rachel Griffith (10 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists) also scored in double figures for Oliver Springs. Rachel Griffith’s 10 points allowed her to top the 1,000-point mark in career scoring.
Stephens (16 points, 10 rebounds), Jessica Morgan (16 points, 4 rebounds) and Newport (10 points, 6 assists) scored in double figures for Oneida in the loss.
Tuesday’s championship was Christopher’s sixth in nine seasons as head coach of Oliver Springs, but it was the Lady ’Cats first since 2010.
“It feels good to get back to where we want to be, but this is only a stepping stone to what we really want,” Christopher said.
That next step takes place Friday when Oliver Springs (17-14) hosts Harriman 11-19) in the opening round of the Region 2-A Tournament. The Lady ‘Cats enter Friday’s contest on a 10-game winning streak, but they will not be taking the Lady Devils lightly, especially considering Harriman beat Oliver Springs 39-35 the last time the two teams met on Dec. 13.
“It’s good to have a couple of days to rest and refocus,” Christopher said. “Our girls remember what happened the last time we played Harriman and I expect us to go into that game with a chip on our shoulder.”
“It won’t be hard for us to get ready for that game,” Griffith added.
Oliver Springs (56) E. Griffith 25, R. Griffith 10, Jones 14, Morgan 5, Smith 2.
Oneida (53) Stephens 16, Carson 3, Newport 10, Caldwell 4, Morgan 16, Thomas 3, Thompson 1.