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Wakefield wins defensive battle against Highland girls basketball, 39-36

Sunday, Jan. 26 | By Jeff Malmgren
Airielle Jenkins smiles after her Wakefield Owls narrowly beat Highland, 39-36, Saturday. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
The Wakefield Owls struggled to make shots.

The Highland Hawks struggled to take shots.

Volume won out Saturday, barely.

Wakefield made only 11 field goals and had a worse shooting percentage than Highland, but the Owls forced enough turnovers to beat the Hawks, 39-36, on the road in Warrenton.

Highland finished with 32 turnovers against the Owls’ manic man-to-man defense. That helped Wakefield overcome its 24 percent field goal shooting (11-for-45) and 57 percent free-throw shooting.

The Owls simply created more opportunities to score than Highland, which went 12-for-39 on field goals (31 percent) and 10-for-15 on free throws (67 percent).

“Any time you play a state-ranked team and hold them in the 30s, you’ve got to be pleased with your defensive effort,” Hawks coach Gary Leake said of the Owls, who are No. 3 in the latest VISAA Division III poll with a 12-3 record. “Our deficit at halftime cost us the game. … I wasn’t expecting us to come out so flat and have so many turnovers.”

Highland (7-5) had 10 turnovers in the first quarter and attempted only six field goals. The Hawks cut down on their turnover in the second period (seven) and took more shots (13), but the Owls still led, 22-14, at halftime.

Highland eventually cut Wakefield’s lead to 37-36 with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Hawks still never led the entire game. The fourth quarter, in fact, featured 11 Highland turnovers and only five Hawks field goal attempts. The Owls sealed their victory on the defensive end.

“It’s very important,” Wakefield junior Airielle Jenkins said of the defense. “That’s how we get our scoring going.”

The Owls finished with 15 steals – exactly their season average – and scored a lot of their points in transition.

“But we didn’t even do it that well today,” Wakefield coach Paul Sipes said.

Perhaps because the Owls played without senior guard Alexis Smith, who missed her fourth consecutive game with an ankle injury.

“She’s got the best floor vision, defensively and offensively, that we have,” Sipes said. “With her sitting on the sideline, we’re lucky to get out of here with the ‘W.’”

The Hawks had two opportunities to tie the game during the final 25 seconds of the fourth quarter. They turned the ball over once with a travel and then missed a buzzer-beating 3-point attempt by freshman Ashton Eicher, who had given Highland hope only moments earlier.

Eicher made a 3-pointer with 31 seconds remaining to cut Wakefield’s lead to 37-36. Jenkins, however, made 2 of 4 free throws to create the need for a Hawks 3-pointer.

Jenkins, curiously, did not make a field goal in the game, but still scored 14 points on 23 free throw attempts thanks to her aggressive drives.

“When teams are playing 2-3 [zone], usually I get my points from free throws,” Jenkins said.

She also had a game-high three assists as well as four rebounds, and her defensive pressure often led to steals by her teammates. Junior forward Naomi Mutombo finished with a game-high seven steals, 12 rebounds and two blocks, while adding five points.

Sophomore guard Juliana Parra added four steals and four rebounds, while freshman point guard Autumn Sanders had two steal and four rebounds to go with a game-high 16 points.

With the victory, Wakefield extended its winning streak to 10 games after going 25-7 last season and finishing as the D-III state runner-up. The Owls are now playing with some newcomers like Mutombo and Sanders.

“We work really well together,” Jenkins said. “We just all clicked.”

The Owls also broke Highland’s three-game winning streak.

“Our first-half bug bit again,” Leake said. “In games that have come down to the wire we have generally gotten off to a slow start. … That hasn’t happened the past [few] games and we’ve been successful.”

The Hawks did rally back Saturday from their eight-point halftime deficit. Senior Michele Micciche had four steals and six points in the third quarter to help narrow Wakefield’s lead to 30-28 by the end of the period.

Highland also made a more deliberate effort to feed the ball to Erica Champion in the post during the third. She finished the game with a team-high 12 points and eight rebounds.

“Probably could have had a couple more points if we had done a better job of getting her the ball in time,” Leake said. “We were waiting too long to make a post-entry past.”

Micciche added nine points, six steals and three assists, while Colby Newson had five points and five rebounds. Eicher had five rebounds and seven points, including the final 3-pointer that gave Highland a chance to win.

The Owls felt disappointed to even be in that situation.

“We’re better than this,” Jenkins said.

“It was a good game,” Mutombo said, “but we can do a lot better next time.”

The rematch will be Feb. 11 in The Plains.

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