Going Home: Lady Falcons best coach's alma mater in OT thriller

·7 min read
Frankfort's Halley Smith goes for the ball against Fort Hill on Wednesday. Smith totaled 16 points, seven of them in overtime, to help lead the Lady Falcons to a 63-60 victory over Fort Hill.
Frankfort's Halley Smith goes for the ball against Fort Hill on Wednesday. Smith totaled 16 points, seven of them in overtime, to help lead the Lady Falcons to a 63-60 victory over Fort Hill.

CUMBERLAND - For Frankfort coach Steve Willison, it was a bit of a coming home moment on Wednesday as his Lady Falcon squad traveled to Fort Hill to take on a game Lady Sentinels’ squad.

Willison, a Fort Hill alum, had an accomplished career, both as a player, and as an assistant coach at the South Cumberland school. On his return visit to his alma mater, Willison was treated to an overtime thriller, as Frankfort defeated Fort Hill 63-60 in overtime.

“It felt nice. I just went downstairs and looked at my old locker, it’s still there, me and J.R. Perdew’s both. I played in the first game ever on this court, my junior year, they had just built this gym. It was nice. I did coach here with Dave Hobel, but tonight was my first time back here in a long time. It looks the same, except for the LED lights, Willison detailed.

According to Willison, “I told the girls before the game, my high school years here we were area and city champions. When I coached with Dave Hobel, it was the same thing. I’ve always had happy experiences here, and I wanted that to continue tonight.”

Fort Hill, as they did to Keyser last week, gave Frankfort all they could handle and more.

“It’s tough to play a team like Fort Hill. They are pretty good,” Willison stated. “You know, they played overtime against Keyser, and that was on Keyser’s court. It was nice to beat them here, in the same situation.”

Willison was not surprised at the effort put forth by Fort Hill, he wasn’t even surprised his team would need overtime to seal the deal.

“I was just hoping to get out of here with a win, that was all I was hoping to do. Even though they lost to Hampshire and Keyser, they’ve beaten almost everybody else. The losses to Hampshire and Keyser were close games on their courts. I knew, after those two losses, it would be hard for Fort Hill to lose three in a row. Getting this win, I was happy,” Willison explained.

Frankfort was led in scoring by Larae Grove with a game-high 26 points. Halley Smith was second in scoring for the Falcons with 16 points, with almost half of those points coming in the all-important overtime session. Emily Smith was next for Frankfort with eight points, followed by Arin Lease with seven points, Grace Scott with four points, and Mackenzie Long with two points.

In the loss, Fort Hill put forth a balanced scoring attack, with four players in double figures. Olivia Looker led the way with 15 points, followed by Karli O’Neal with 13 points, Brooklyne Noel with 11 points, and Kayijan George with 10 points. In addition, Alayzia Trimble tallied eight points, and Carly Bennett seven points.

Frankfort started hot, outpacing the homestanding Sentinels 21-12 in the game’s opening quarter. In the second quarter, however, Fort Hill showed signs that they were prepared to mount a comeback. The Lady Sentinels edged Frankfort in the second frame 12-10, cutting the Falcons’ lead to seven points, 31-24, at the mid-point of regulation play.

After halftime, Fort Hill came out and again edged Fort Hill, this time 11-9, and while the advantage was slight, it still once again cut into the Frankfort lead, this time cutting it to just five points (40-35) entering the fourth quarter. In that final frame, for the third time in four quarters, Fort Hill once again gained the advantage, this time 15-10, and most importantly, knotting the game at 50 points apiece and forcing the overtime session.

Fort Hill had not gained a lead in the game until the overtime session.

“We came out hot, we really did. But, it was nice to see our girls not quit. We came out into overtime, all of the sudden they shoot two foul shots, and we’re down, for the first time in the whole game. The crowd was into it. It was just nice to see our girls maintain their composure and get it back,” Willison explained.

In the extra period, Frankfort fell down at first, but finished strong, outscoring Fort Hill 13-10 in extra time to earn the 63-60 victory. Fort Hill had a chance with just seconds remaining to tie the game, but the shot didn’t fall.

Frankfort’s Halley Smith, the third leading scorer in the state of West Virginia and the leading scorer in the area, had been held in check for much of regulation play. Thanks to tenacious defense played by Fort Hill’s Karli O’Neal, and a bit of an off-night shooting, Smith only had nine points through the fourth quarter. In the overtime session, Smith rallied when the chips were down, scoring seven points in the bonus period to lead Frankfort down the stretch.

“It was just a tough game. She’s now the third leading scorer in the state, she simply can’t do it every night, that’s all there is to it. She’ll come out and do well against Hampshire for sure, her future really looks good,” Willison explained.

According to Willison, “She started going right to the bucket, scoring, getting fouled.”

While Smith rallied late, Larae Grove was spectacular all night in her 26-point performance.

“Larae really stepped up, and she played the whole fourth quarter with four fouls. We had three or four starters with four fouls late in the game. That’s tough to do,” Willison detailed.

From the Fort Hill perspective, Sentinel coach Sarah Bennett was proud of her team’s performance and effort, “I’m proud of this team, we’re not taking this away as a loss. Whenever we were down by almost 20, I think it was 17 points at one point, to come back, send it into overtime, and pull together with what they had left in their legs, and just lose by three, that’s not a loss in our book.

According to Bennett, “So we’re all leaving tonight knowing that we need to work on free throws, which is unusual for us, but they are ready. They are going to have a good and successful season the rest of the time.”

For the Sentinels, this game played out similarly to the game against Keyser, a slow start followed by a much stronger finish.

“I think we just need to learn to control our adrenaline in the very beginning. Some of it I felt like it was just too much adrenaline behind the passes,” Bennett explained.

Bennett was particularly pleased with her team’s defensive performance, “Absolutely. Man to man worked out really good for us. In zone, we just weren’t communicating well enough. Frankfort ran some excellent plays and had some good cuts. Whenever we picked them up in man, it worked really well.”

With their strong performance all season, particularly of late, Fort Hill has certainly proven themselves to be a quality opponent, and a tough out for anyone.

According to Bennett, “Fort Hill should have their name out there, without a doubt. If anyone thinks they can just walk over us, they need to take another look. One thing that Maryland didn’t have was a season last year. We couldn’t meet. I was flat out sending messages out to our team with trivia questions about the state of Maryland’s basketball records, and having them name college coaches. That’s all that we could do.”

“So, for us to be able to come into this season, without having a season last year and with the majority of our girls not playing on the floor much together. Then to hang with teams that were playing into April last year in West Virginia. People need to come and watch a game. It would be nice for everyone to come and watch a game and cheer them on,” Bennett explained.

Frankfort was also victorious in the junior varsity contest.

At the varsity level, the Lady Falcons (10-3) will next travel to Hampshire on Friday, January 28, then host Keyser on Saturday, January 29.

“This week, we will have played teams three, four and five in our area, we’ll see after this week where we really stand. I would like to come out and go 3-0 obviously, but if not, we’ll just have to work on some more things,” Willison explained.

This article originally appeared on Mineral Daily News-Tribune: Going Home: Lady Falcons best coach's alma mater in OT thriller

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