Oak Harbor wins battle of the cats

In Friday night’s back-and-forth battle of WesCo North contenders, the Oak Harbor girls basketball team matched the Monroe Bearcats blow for blow, taking them down 59-53 in the fourth quarter.

“It was a fun game to be a part of,” Oak Harbor coach Brett McLeod said. “Exciting, with a good atmosphere.”

After losing their 15-13 first quarter advantage, the Wildcats found themselves trailing all the way until late into the third period.

With 47.8 seconds remaining in the third, sophomore center Heidi McNeill powered her way into the key through defenders for a lay-up and the foul. McNeill hit the ensuing free throw, knotting the game, 43-43, providing the first tie since the opening quarter.

“She’s a clutch player,” McLeod said. “She’s had so many big plays.”

Only 50-seconds into the fourth period, Oak Harbor senior Shirley Spears drained a three-pointer that put the Cats up 46-45. The shot resulted in the first Oak Harbor lead since the first quarter and provided them with the last lead they would need.

Key offensive rebounds off missed Wildcat free throws helped seal the game for Oak Harbor. The rebounds were crucial for the Cats who only hit on 1 of 7 free throw attempts in the final minute of the game.

“Offensively, we got some big rebounds off of missed free throws,” McLeod said. “Thank goodness because we didn’t make many free throws down the stretch.”

Also significant to the outcome of Friday’s contest was the first ever league matchup of Oak Harbor’s six-foot-three center McNeill and Monroe’s six-foot-six center Kirsten Thompson, the tallest prep female player in the state. The two sophomores are no strangers to one another. They have played together since the seventh grade and are teammates on the Seattle Heat AAU team.

Early in the game Thompson appeared to have the advantage with 16 points at the half, opposed to McNeill’s 12. At one point in the second quarter Thompson showed her dominance by scoring 10 points on five straight trips down the court for Monroe.

It was a different story in the second half.

Oak Harbor began to play a new zone defense in the second half, which virtually put a lid on Thompson’s offense.

“Kirsten’s a great player,” McNeill said. “In the second half we just kind of doubled down on her and shut her down.”

“In the first half our defense was a little shaky so in the second half we put up a new zone and that really helped us.”

When it was all said and done McNeill came out on top with 31 points and 11 rebounds. The total points equalled McNeill’s previous season high, which came against league leader Snohomish.

“I seem to play better against better teams,” McNeill said.

Thompson ended the game with 22 points for the Bearcats, hitting 11 of 15 from the field. She only saw four shot opportunities in the second half.

“We have a more balanced scoring offense so we’re not going to go to Thompson as much, but we should have tonight,” Monroe head coach Alan Dickson said.

Other key performers for Oak Harbor include Spears, who finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

“She kind of wears her emotions on her sleeve and just goes for it and that’s what we like about her,” McLeod said. “She gives us so much energy underneath the hoop and outside, she kind of does it all for us.”

Sophomore Amanda Watts had 11 points, knocking down six of those in the final minutes of the game.

McLeod was pleased with everyone’s performance on the night.

“I thought the rest of our players, Amanda, Kaylea (Kingma), Jenny (White) and Felicia (Hill), they didn’t try to do too much,” McLeod said. “They just did what we asked them to do and did a great job with it.”

With the win Oak Harbor claims sole possession of second place in the WesCo North just one game behind Snohomish.

Up next for the Wildcats is a road game at 7:30 p.m., this Friday, Jan. 24 against Stanwood. They then make a trip at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 28 to Snohomish. The Panthers are undefeated in league and handed Oak Harbor its lone league loss of the season.

Oak Harbor—15 13 15 16—59

Monroe— 13 18 12 10—53

Scoring—OH: McNeill 31, Spears 12, Watts 11, Kingma 3, White 2.

M: Thompson 22, Zimmerman 8, Morarity 7, Kolrud 5, Barnes 4, Muhammed 4, Drivstuen 3.

Records: Oak Harbor 7-1 in league, 9-2 overall; Monroe 5-2 in league 8-3 overall.

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