If there was one play that typified Oregon’s 53-39 win over Byron in a clash of previously unbeaten BNC foes, it occurred midway through the fourth quarter Jan. 4.
After a missed shot, Oregon’s Kimmie Janke and Byron’s Ellie Lehne fought for the rebound. What was significant is that Janke gave up nearly a foot to the 6-foot-2 Lehne, but still managed to grab the ball away from her.
In fact, she even drew a foul on the play, much to the delight of the large Oregon crowd, and converted a charity toss.
“That’s the kind of play Kimmie will make,” Oregon coach Kristy Eckardt said. “She will be fundamentally sound in getting rebounding position and out-hustling her opponent.”
In a game advertised as speed versus height, Oregon’s speed won out, along with a heavy dose of hustling, not just from Janke, but also from every player on the Lady Hawk roster.
“In one way or another, everyone contributed, whether it was rebounding, assists, defense or making shots,” Eckardt said. “What stood out most, though, was our level of intensity. It’s a huge rivalry with Byron and it got us pumped up knowing they were ranked ahead of us. We proved we’re a great team.”
Oregon moved to 15-4 overall and took sole possession of the conference race with a 5-0 record, while the Lady Tigers (14-2, 3-1) fell into second place. It was also the second-year coach Eckardt’s fifth straight win over Byron.
“They’ve been a thorn in our side,” said Byron coach Eric Yerly, also in his second year. “When they’re at home, they come out hard. I’m glad the regional is at our place.”
Byron was hurt by woeful shooting, going 1-for-18 from beyond the arc. Conversely, the Lady Hawks were an impressive 50 percent, making 6-of-12. That 15-point differential proved to be the difference in the game.
“Anytime they made a run, we had an answer,” Eckardt said. “We pressured their shooters. It would be a different ball game if they hit their shots.”
Surprisingly, Lehne and 6-4 Sophie Reecher, the University of Toledo recruit, both fouled out and did not fully take advantage of their height advantage, though Lehne led all scorers 17 points on 8-15 shooting.
“Our speed and attacking got Reecher into foul trouble,” Eckardt said.
“Three minutes into the game she was in foul trouble,” Yerly said. “Our big girls aren’t usually prone to foul problems.”
It was also at that point that Oregon jumped out to an 8-1 lead. Sam Lambrigtsen advanced the lead to 12-5 at the end of the first quarter on a head-fake layup off a steal. Lambrigtsen seemingly had her way all night driving to the basket.
“Sam has an amazing ability to find a glimmer of light in the gaps,” Eckardt said. “She’s aggressive to the basket and you can’t teach that.”
Emy Wright and McKaylee Beeter added 11 points each to compliment the 15 put up by Lambrigtsen.
“They have three good guards and we have the post,” Yerly said.
Even one of the Lady Hawks’ back-up guards, Madeline Sanders, put on a show by making a shake-and-bake move to the basket for two points and then drawing a foul on the next possession for another score.
“We have all those threats and then Bree (Tourtillott) and Devyn (Absher) are capable of pulling of and hitting the mid-range jumper,” Eckardt said.
In Oregon’s most fundamentally sound basket of the game, Tourtillott hit one of those mid-range jumpers, but only after her teammates exercised great patience and prolific passing in finding the open shooter.
The back-to-back scores by Tourtillott and Sanders gave Oregon a 22-9 lead midway through the second quarter. Going into halftime, the Lady Hawks retained a doubling up of the score and continued attacking the entire floor on offense throughout the game.
Beeter banked in a 3-pointer and Lambrightsen had another layup off a steal (five) to make it 34-15 early in the third quarter.
The Lady Tigers put together their best run of the game to close within 49-37 with two minutes, 18 seconds left in the game on eight consecutive points by Reecher and Lehne.
That was as close as they would get, as both players soon fouled out and Absher and Wright went 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
“We had no nerves tonight,” Eckardt said. “We knew exactly what we needed to do and it helps by having one of the best home crowds in the conference.”
“This is round one,” said Yerly. “It will be different next time.”
Round two of the Oregon-Byron series will be Jan. 29 at Byron, with the regional (round three?) to be a week later.