Winning its second straight Class AA state basketball title, Oak Hill placed an emphatic exclamation point on a season which was surrounded by question marks at the outset.
In dispatching the Scott Skyhawks 57-48 Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center, the top-seeded Red Devils (25-3) built up a 16-point lead early in the fourth period and withstood a spirited Scott rally which eventually made it a six-point game twice in the final four minutes.
“I think some people wrote us off before the season started,” said veteran Oak Hill coach Fred Ferri Jr. Even folks in “our section and region” felt that “Oak Hill is done,” he added.
Unfortunately for second-seeded Scott and the other teams in this year’s field, the Red Devils were far from finished.
The key to Oak Hill’s successful defense of the championship it won a year ago over rival Wyoming East was its defense, Ferri said.
“I thought we won the way we won all year, (with) defense,” he said. “We’ve been this good defensively all year.
“Any time you can hold a team in the 40s and even in the 50s, you’ve got a chance. Today was a good defensive day.”
Utilizing a zone defense “was the key,” he added. “We haven’t played much zone this year, but we changed our zone to account for (Scott’s inside tandem of David Ward and Justin Harmon).”
“We didn’t think they’d come out in a zone,” admitted Scott coach Jason Kingery.
The Red Devils’ prevent efforts helped contribute mightily to Scott’s 36 percent (18-of-50) shooting effort from the field, in addition to the 18 turnovers Scott committed which translated to 17 points on the other end for Oak Hill.
After freshman Javonne Staunton-Bailey made a pair of free throws to hand Oak Hill a 46-30 margin at the 7:40 mark of the fourth period, Scott began to exhibit signs of life. The scrappy Skyhawks outscored the Red Devils 11-1 in a 3:38 stretch of the final frame to trim the deficit to 47-41 with 4:02 left.
Scott again pulled to within six points, 52-46, on a 3-pointer by Ward with 2:10 to play, but Oak Hill righted itself enough to prevent any further damage.
Coming out of a timeout, Staunton-Bailey hit Kalif Wright with a nice entry pass, and the subsequent Wright deuce pushed the margin to 54-46 with 1:32 left. Then, following a Wright blocked shot, Thomas Booth sank one of two free throws to make it 55-46 with 58.6 seconds remaining. Finally, DeAndré Leonard hit one of two charity tosses on a Scott intentional foul, pushing the lead to 56-46 with 48 ticks left.
Scott’s big men partially solved the Wright puzzle, limiting Oak Hill’s leading scorer to a team-best 18 points (after previous tourney outputs of 33 and 32 points) on 5-of-16 floor shooting and an 8-of-12 showing at the charity stripe. But, he had ample help.
“Basketball’s a team game,” Ferri said. “No one can do it by himself.
“These other guys can play, and they stepped up.”
Staunton-Bailey played the entire game and finished with 15 points and five rebounds. His scoring effort included a pair of 3-point goals in the second quarter, key shots which helped Oak Hill assume a 26-18 lead en route to a 29-20 advantage at intermission.
Staunton-Bailey admitted to feeling “a little nervous” as Scott crept closer, but he said Ferri “settled me down.” When asked if he still felt like a freshman, he replied, “I feel like a state champion. We have worked so hard to get there.”
“Javonne stepped up and made some big shots in the first half,” Ferri said. “He played very well.”
Leonard provided 14 points (on 6-of-11 shooting), seven assists and five steals. His two-pointer at the outset of the third frame made Oak Hill’s lead 31-20, and later in the period he scored off a hesitation dribble, stretching the margin to 40-28. Wright followed that with a stickback, and Staunton-Bailey ended the quarter by shaking loose underneath for a deuce and a 44-30 cushion.
Ward finished with 23 points for Scott (22-6), including nine straight during a first-quarter spurt which allowed his team to turn a 12-4 deficit into a 13-12 lead at quarter’s end. Marshall Tully added 12 points and Justin Harmon 10.
Kingery felt like his team had its chances to be in the game at the end.
“Even when we were down 9-10 points, I still had the confidence we’d be back,” he said. “We just didn’t get it done.
“We cut it to six and needed a couple of defensive stops. Time’s running out, and we’re scrambling and scrambling. Next thing you know, we’re sitting in here (post-game media room) with a loss.”
Wright, Oak Hill’s all-time leading scorer, was obviously happier than Kingery with the final outcome.
“This year we had a target on our backs,” he said. “We had to suck it up.
“I was more excited this time (than in 2010), because this is the last time I’ll put on an Oak Hill jersey.”
“This is a real credit to our seniors (Wright, Leonard, Booth, Kyle Colon and Noah Smith),” said Ferri. “They worked so hard for this.
“I’m so proud of all of them (the whole team).”