So far attention to detail on the defensive side of the ball is paying big dividends for the Waverly Lady Tigers.

Monday night’s home game with South Webster was close through three quarters. Then the Lady Tigers took a stand defensively and outscored the visiting Lady Jeeps 14-4 to pick up a 49-37 win. The triumph sees Waverly improve to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in Southern Ohio Conference Division II play.

“I’m so impressed with how we are playing defensively. It is the third straight game that we held our opponent to less than six points in the fourth quarter,” said Waverly coach John Bonifield. “We have preached in all preseason to focus on defense. We have people who can score, but we need to be able to sit down and defend.”

The Lady Tigers were able to do just what the coaches asked, limiting South Webster to four points in that final quarter to secure the double-digit victory.

In the opening quarter of play, South Webster gained the initial lead, fighting in front 4-0 as the two teams battled to find their way. Waverly junior Carli Knight helped the Lady Tigers get started, providing assists on passes to Zoiee Smith and Sarah Thompson, while having a deflection that led to a basket for Paige Carter. Midway through, the teams were tied at 6-6.

South Webster briefly moved ahead on a three-pointer from Liz Shupert, only to see Smith come back with a pair of drives, putting Waverly in front 10-9. Then Lady Jeep Bri Claxon closed the scoring in the frame, adding a pair of foul shots and a bucket to give her team the 13-10 advantage.

Carter started the scoring for Waverly in the second quarter. Waverly’s press seemed to be bothering the Lady Jeeps. That gave Carter the opportunity to make off with a steal, drive to the paint and score around a defender on a spin move, giving the Lady Tigers the 14-13 edge. The Lady Jeeps took the lead for the final time in the half when Baylee Cox came back with a bucket in the paint, 15-14. Waverly’s next two buckets came from Sarah Thompson, as Smith delivered assists to give her shots in the paint, capping an 8-2 run to put the Lady Tigers ahead again 18-15 two minutes into the quarter.

“Zoiee has been our table-setter since her freshman year. It is great to have a point guard who you know can read defenses and get the ball to the right people in the right spots. As a coach, it makes my job a lot easier,” said Bonifield. “Zoiee’s vision is outstanding. I’m not saying anything that people don’t know. She has the leadership and the floor general aspect down pat. It is so much easier to run an offense with Zoiee as the point guard.”

South Webster’s Faith Maloney broke through for her team before Smith scored on a pull-up shot to make the lead three again. Delaney Tackett had the next bucket for the Lady Tigers to give them their largest lead to that point, 22-17. The final three minutes of the quarter didn’t result in a lot of scoring for either team. Knight had Waverly’s final point from the line, taking a 23-19 lead into the break at halftime.

“I was proud of Zoiee on the defensive end as well. We knew we needed to key in on (Faith) Maloney and (Bri) Claxon,” said Bonifield. “Many times, Zoiee was guarding Maloney and giving up a lot of size. Zoiee came up with so many steals and jump balls.”

The Lady Jeeps tried to regain the momentum in the third quarter, starting with a 7-2 run to take a one-point advantage, 26-25. A free throw from Knight brought the game to a 26-26 tie. The teams tied at 28, 30, 31, and 33. With the final 30 seconds of the third quarter ticking off the clock, Smith took advantage of a turnover and tried to drive to the basket for the go-ahead points. She couldn’t get her shot to fall, but freshman Kelli Stewart was following behind her, securing the rebound and putting it back at the buzzer. That gave Waverly the 35-33 lead.

Starting the fourth quarter, the Lady Tigers controlled the offense and the defense. Lydia Brown and Smith each split a pair of free throws to start the scoring before Carli Knight followed with a steal and a drive, 39-33. Then Thompson and Carter each scored to stretch it to double-digits, 43-33. The Lady Jeeps managed to cut it down to nine twice, but Brown and Thompson scored on back-to-back opportunities to stay in front. One final free throw from the Lady Jeeps capped the scoring, giving the Lady Tigers their 49-37 win.

“We had been pressing all game. Eventually, we said we would play a half court defense and get after it, be in our assignments, know our gaps, and know our responsibilities,” said Bonifield. “We were able to get some stops, get in transition, and get some looks. Everything builds upon our defensive effort. If we commit to playing defense, our offense is going to be so much easier.”

Thompson finished as the leading scorer, providing 14 points and four rebounds. Smith finished with 11 points and nine assists. Carter also had 11 points and four rebounds.

“Sarah has been growing by leaps and bounds. She was kind of dejected after the first two games. I told Sarah to keep working and doing what she is doing in practice. Her time was going to come. It was nice to see her have a big game and be aggressive,” said Bonifield.

“Sarah has the skills. Sometimes she isn’t as aggressive as we want her to be, but we have seen it in spurts. Tonight we got to see it (that aggressiveness) for a whole game. Hopefully this is a springboard for Sarah. She gives us a presence in the post. Sarah has great hands and can finish around the basket. When you have someone like Zoiee who can get Sarah the ball and other guards who can attack, now we are firing on all cylinders.”

The Lady Tigers will have a week between games. Their next contest is at Minford on Monday, Dec. 9.

“Defense travels. We’ve been blessed to be at home for three games,” said Bonifield. “Now we have to start going on the road. We hope to continue the defensive effort on the road.”

SWHS - 13 6 14 4 - 37

WHS - 10 13 12 14 - 49

SOUTH WEBSTER (37) — Faith Maloney 4 1 0-0 11, Liz Shupert 2 1 0-0 7, Baylee Cox 4 0 3-8 11, Bri Claxon 3 0 2-2 8, Kenzie Hornikel 0 0 0-0 0, Brooklyn Blanton 0 0 0-0 0, TOTALS 13 2 5-10 37.

WAVERLY (49) — Kelli Stewart 1 0 0-0 2, Carli Knight 2 0 2-4 6, Michaela Rhoads 0 0 0-0 0, Lydia Brown 1 0 1-4 3, Raelynn Dale 0 0 0-0 0, Delaney Tackett 1 0 0-0 2, Zoiee Smith 5 0 1-3 11, Sarah Thompson 7 0 0-1 14, Paige Carter 4 0 3-4 11, TOTALS 22 0 7-16 49.

Email at jbillings@newswatchman.com; follow on Twitter @ Julie_Billings

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