Lady Wildcats’ defense sends HVA packing in Region 2-AAA

Abbey Cornelius, Hardin Valley Academy star senior post, gets up over Oak Ridge post defenders for a short jumper during this Region 2-AAA quarterfinal game at ORHS Friday night, Feb. 23. The Lady Wildcats pulled away to win 55-39, ending the Lady Hawks’ season.
OAK RIDGE — Oak Ridge transition points, obtained thanks to tight defense forcing turnovers and long defensive rebounds, overcame a disciplined Hardin Valley Academy offense.

The result, in this win-or-go-home Region 2-AAA quarterfinal at ORHS, was a 55-39 Lady Wildcats victory Friday night, Feb. 23.

The Lady Hawks, District 4-AAA league co-champs (13-3) before a disappointing fourth-place district tourney finish, end the season 22-8. Oak Ridge, District 3-AAA league and tourney champs, improved to 25-5.

“One of the strengths of their defense is they capitalize — it’s what they do after they get a stop,” HVA head coach Jennifer Galloway said. “They capitalize on a turnover, they capitalize on a great defensive stop with their rebounding, they’re going [on a fastbreak] on the other end.

“A lot of times their defense scores points for them,” she added. “They were able to do that tonight.”

However, “I was so proud of our girls because our girls took the gameplan and executed it the best they could,” Galloway said. “I felt like we got some shots that just didn’t fall that normally fall for us.

“And if they had fallen at the time at which they were shot, it could have been a momentum swing,” she added. “You just never know what could have happened.”

Abbey Cornelius, HVA star senior post, led her team in scoring with 15.

Four first-half points from Kiara Inman, Lady Hawks junior guard (seven total), and five from Mikayla McDaniel, senior guard, helped Hardin Valley cut an 18-7 deficit to 18-15. Oak Ridge, however, used a late run to go up 31-20 at halftime.

Late third-quarter baskets from Cornelius and senior guard Paige Gentry (six points) helped Hardin Valley close to within 39-32 after three frames.

“I thought we played great half-court defense,” Galloway said. “And I thought, for the most part, we had good transition defense.

“I thought our girls fought hard,” she added.

After an 8-0 Lady Wildcats run to begin the fourth quarter, HVA never got closer than within 13.

Lauren Trent, ORHS assistant coach, spoke on behalf of Lady Wildcats head coach Paige Redman (battling laryngitis).

“Our girls did a really good job defensively,” Trent said. “Our big focus is ball pressure. We want to put pressure on other teams and make them have to work for every single thing they get offensively.

“We wanted to push the ball in transition and make them run. We thought we could wear them down if we got them playing a full court game the whole game,” she added.

Junior Jada Guinn and senior Jaymi Golden each scored 16 to lead Oak Ridge.

Also hurting the Lady Hawks start, falling behind 14-5 after one period, was three first-quarter fouls called against Lizzie Davis, standout senior guard (four points).

About Hardin Valley, Trent said, “They’re a great team and they’re super-well coached.

“… Cornelius, she’s a great player. Our main focus was to be physical with her and to make her work,” she added. “And to have great back-side help. And we did a really good job of that as well.”

Malaka Grice, HVA sophomore post, scored two points.

Galloway became emotional when speaking about her six seniors, which also includes wing Autumn Fields and guard Landin Khiemdavanh. “What you don’t see is the stuff they do outside of the floor. They help form a strong bond between the whole team,” she said. “They’re great leaders and they’re great girls. They’re sisters, they battle for each other.

“It’s been fun to watch — it’s fun to have been a part of that for four years with those six girls.”