Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
WARDSVILLE — The Blair Oaks girls basketball team had a 10-day break in its schedule before Thursday’s game against St. Elizabeth, and the Lady Falcons were eager to return to the court.
They wasted no time getting to work, defeating the Lady Hornets 62-36.
Blair Oaks scored the first 13 points of the game, nine of which reached the scoreboard before St. Elizabeth was able to get a shot off. The Lady Falcons utilized a full-court press, and it paid off, forcing turnovers in nine of the Lady Hornets’ first 11 possessions.
“We knew we’d have trouble, and we worked on trying to get rid of (the ball) as soon as it came in, but yeah, it was huge,” St. Elizabeth coach Sheila Heckemeyer said of Blair Oaks’ pressure. “We just couldn’t handle it. Even if they’d pick us up three-quarter, half-court, it didn’t matter. They’re just too long and athletic for us.”
Lauren Viessman had five steals in the first quarter alone. She led all scorers with 25 points.
“Lauren’s a very good player, and she just understands the game,” Heckemeyer said. “She shoots so well. She sees things that other players don’t, and yeah, she gives us fits.”
Fellow senior Chelsi Emerson also played a big part in the Lady Falcons’ early success, scoring the first two baskets of the game, and tallying seven of her 13 points in the first quarter.
“It was good to see a couple of the seniors came out and set the tone,” Blair Oaks coach Leroy Bernskoetter said.
Blair Oaks brought a 39-13 lead into halftime, and eased up on the gas a bit in the second half, settling into a half-court man-to-man defense while cruising to a 26-point lead.
Bernskoetter was happy to see underclassmen Sydney Wilde and Sarah Wolken play well. The two combined for 12 points — important production for a team dealing with a knee injury to Veronica Wiebold and a foot injury to Carli Buschjost. Wilde, who started for Blair Oaks, had no prior varsity experience.
Final score aside, however, it wasn’t all good for the Lady Falcons.
Bernskoetter felt his team let up a little once it moved to the half-court man defense and that Blair Oaks let the Lady Hornets get near the hoop too easily.
“That’s a little disturbing that we let them get the ball in that paint so easy,” he said. “We let girls cut in front. We let them drive. Those are the things we’ve still got to work on. … And sometimes it’s hard to get a flow because all of a sudden you start rotating that many girls, but we’d like for you to play that hard that we have to rotate girls in because you’ve exhausted yourself.
“Still, some people like to stand and watch. I don’t know how to fix it. But I’m always one that’s looking to see what we have to do to get better.”
On the other side, the game wasn’t a total loss for St. Elizabeth.
Heckemeyer was happy her team was able to come out in the second half and nearly double its first-half total of 13 points. In fact, the Lady Hornets actually outscored Blair Oaks 14-12 in the fourth quarter.
“No matter what, my girls don’t quit,” she said. “They give me everything. They’re doing the best they can. And we knew guard play was going to be tough.”
Like Blair Oaks, St. Elizabeth is dealing with youth, inexperience and injuries. Two freshmen started for the Lady Hornets, including Brooke Struemph, who finished with a team- and career-high 17 points. Struemph played the entire second half. Heckemeyer’s squad has a senior out with an ACL tear, one sophomore out with a dislocated shoulder and another sophomore playing with an ankle injury.
This game came at the tail end of the 2-4 Lady Hornets’ tough early-season stretch of games.
“Before Christmas is the toughest part of our schedule,” Heckemeyer said. “We have five games in a row against good, good teams, and on a good year if we win two or three games before Christmas. … It’s tough, and I told them, ‘Don’t get discouraged, because it’s all about the end.’ It’s all about where we’re going to be at the end. Are we going to be playing huge, athletic schools like this? No. We’ll have good teams, but it’s not going to be the same, so hopefully, every loss we learn.”
The Lady Falcons (3-3) are happy to get a solid win coming off a long break, but Bernskoetter knows his team must improve if it hopes for similar finishes Saturday against Harrisburg in the Missouri National Guard Shootout at Fleming Fieldhouse and Fatima on Jan. 3.
“I just hope the girls just try to get better,” Bernskoetter said, “and that’s why you go out and play.”