OAK HILL — When the season opened up less than three weeks ago, Oak Hill wrote down some simple goals to achieve.
Just five games into the season, it has already checked off a number of things.
However, it checked off a huge one on Tuesday as it earned a 49-40 victory over Portsmouth West in SOC II action — marking its third win of the season.
“We knew this game would be a little tricky and that we’d have to use some minutes differently with guys being less than 100%,” Oak Hill coach Heath McKinniss said. “Things changed after halfway, and the effort was there. Diving on the floor for loose balls, ball movement and attacking. Just a great effort all around.”
While most teams prefer to have a balanced scoring attack, Oak Hill unknowingly opted for a different strategy.
With a few kids less than 100% but still giving their best efforts, the Oaks through caution to the wind and trusted Gavin Howell, Kade Kinzel and Aidan Hall to carry the offensive load.
The trio responded by scoring all 49 Oak Hill points. Howell finished with a career-best 21 points, Hall added 18 points and five rebounds while Kinzel had 10 points.
“We’ve been able to get the ball inside all season, but it’s those outside guys that have been a little spotty here and there,” McKinniss said. “Kade has had a game here and there, and tonight was Gavin’s night for sure. Both guys shot the ball very well. They shouldered all the responsibility and handled it like leaders do.”
All first half, the Oaks had problems containing Portsmouth West’s Noah Coleman. He was slippery with his movement and selective with his shot, only taking high percentage shots.
He opened the game with the first seven points for the Senators, while the Oaks struggled early from the floor and trailed 12-8 after the first.
His teammates began to get more involved, but Coleman was still the focal point of the Senators’ attack whether he was scoring or not.
The threat of the ball in his hands opened up the floor for Jack Jordan, Mitchell Irwin and Jordan Davis to make an impact, alongside Coleman.
With the ball spread around more, West continuing to be the aggressors, led by Coleman’s 12 points and Oak Hill not connecting on shots early, that allowed the Senators to take a 22-17 lead into the break.
However, the Oaks made some defensive adjustments to limit Coleman’s impact in hopes the Senators’ offense would slow down.
It worked like a charm as they held him to just four points in the second half.
“West was screening a lot, so we started going under the screen and keeping him in front of us as much as possible,” McKinniss said. “They have some nice players and they’re really well coached. But I thought our guys did a great job of being active and creating some turnovers as well.”
Meanwhile, though the Oaks still trailed for the time being, momentum was beginning to build within them.
Howell connected on a deep triple to close the gap to two points, then later, Kinzel buried the three to give them their first lead of the game at 30-29.
”Over the first few games my shooting was really shaky, so I’ve been working on shooting the ball lighter and floating it a little more,” Howell said. “There’s been a lot of after practice work I’ve been in get everything down the best I can, and it paid off in this one.”
Hall added a bucket to close the frame on a 7-2 run and give Oak Hill a 32-29 lead heading into the fourth.
Midway through the fourth with Oak Hill leading 38-37, the Senators had their chance to regain the lead. However, it missed two free throws to keep the Oaks ahead.
It came down to free throws, and Howell became the go-to guy down the stretch, nailing one shot after another to close out an Oak victory.
“Honestly, a lot of credit goes to Aidan, Nathan (Hall) and Connor (Clark), those guys were great on the glass,” Howell said. “They worked their butts off to give us possessions and second chance opportunities as well.