GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Truth be told, the Lady Rebels are young, indeed inexperienced, and will endure their share of growing pains this girls basketball season.
However, they are at least off to a good start.
That’s because visiting South Gallia captured Tuesday’s season opener against Ohio Valley Christian School, erasing an early deficit to post a 54-38 victory over the Lady Defenders.
The contest marked the season opener for both teams, as the Lady Rebels sport no seniors — while OVCS only has seven total players.
There are 13 in the entire South Gallia program, which started its three most experienced players — juniors Erin Evans, Olivia Hornsby and Aaliyah Howell.
Joining them were two freshmen starters — along with two freshmen substitutes, the Rebels’ lone sophomore in Jessica Luther, and junior Brooke Campbell.
In trailing 11-5 only nine minutes into the game, the Rebels outscored OVCS 49-27 the remainder of the way.
Nine unanswered points pushed South Gallia in front 17-12 at the 4:20 mark of the second quarter, as they outdid OVCS 15-6 in the period.
The Lady Rebels then maintained their second-half lead between four and 13 points throughout the third quarter, as their fourth-quarter cushion never dipped below double figures.
South Gallia’s largest lead was the final score, as Hornsby had a driving layup off an OVCS turnover with 1:52 remaining.
While fifth-year head coach Corey Small admits his Lady Rebels have plenty to work on, it’s always nice to get the season started on the right foot.
“We started out slow, but that is to be expected with a young group like this. But once the jitters got out of the way, the second, third and fourth quarter, I was happy with their performance,” said Small. “We got a lot of buckets and easy layups off steals. Our defense was okay tonight. We still have a lot to work on, but hopefully by the middle of the season we’ll start to click and play our best ball. It’s always nice to start the season with a win at least.”
For the Lady Defenders, their seven-person roster features two seniors, a junior and four sophomores.
Despite leading for the final three-and-a-half minutes of the opening stanza, and the first two minutes and 55 seconds of the second period, OVCS struggled with turnovers — which led to many runouts and second-half transition points by the Rebels.
“One thing we’ve really tried to work on is taking care of the basketball. Tonight we didn’t do that,” said OVCS coach Chris Burnett. “We played well at times in the half-court set, and when we were able to take care of the ball, we got the shots we wanted. But too many turnovers led to too many leak-outs and easy points for them. “
The biggest beneficiaries for South Gallia were freshman Amaya Howell and Hornsby, as Howell went off for 20 points in her first varsity game.
Hornsby had 10 points on four second-half field goals and 2-of-2 free throws, while Aaliyah Howell hit for four second-half field goals as well.
Evans added seven points on three second-half field goals and a foul shot, as Luther and Christine Griffith gained a first-half basket apiece.
Speaking of the first half, Amaya Howell hit three threes, including two in the second quarter to turn the 11-5 deficit into a 17-12 advantage in a matter of 2:45.
Her other triple came for the Lady Rebels’ first points of the season.
Hornsby with two free throws and a putback basket, sandwiched around Griffth’s stickback, gave South Gallia a 14-12 cushion that it never relinquished from there.
Alyssa Cremeens canned a three-ball to make it 20-14 with 1:55 remaining in the half, as that score stood all the way until Hornsby’s first field goal — with 53 seconds gone by in the third frame.
Because of their six-person rotation, the Defenders played a 2-3 zone defense during that stretch — and were shot out of it.
“Numbers-wise, we had to go to that zone in the second quarter to get a little bit of rest. But they hit us with those threes,
“said Burnett. “We had to come out of that pretty quick.”
The closest the Defenders got in the entire second half was a 26-22 deficit, thanks to Katie Bradley’s second three-pointer and Rachel Sargent’s second free throw.
“Turnovers here and there, and we just weren’t able to close that gap,” said Burnett. “Trying to come back, we expended a lot of energy and I think it just caught the best of us toward the end.”
Sargent, on five field goals and five free throws, led the Lady Defenders with a dozen points — as Bradley bucketed 10 on two twos and two treys.
Emily Childers and Cori Hutchinson had a trifecta apiece as part of five points each, and Kristen Durst scored a field goal in the third.
The Lady Rebels held a 23-13 advantage in total field goals.
Burnett said he was proud of his Defenders’ effort, but they too are young and somewhat inexperienced — and have only had six practices prior to Tuesday.
The seniors Sargent and Bradley, along with Childers and Hutchinson, were integral players for the Lady Defenders’ volleyball squad — which reached the OCSAA state championship tilt.
“Our execution wasn’t where it needed to be tonight, but we’re a young team still battling,” he said. “I was proud of their effort and we’re going to keep jelling, growing and getting better.”
The Defenders’ next opportunity at improvement comes on Friday at Calvary Christian.
South Gallia hosted Symmes Valley on Wednesday night for another non-league tilt.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106