OHHS girls pummel Panthers en route to Tawas match-up Friday

Falcons looking for first NEMC title since ‘94

Linda Eyer
Ogemaw Height's Josie Wiltse (left) shields a loose ball from Standish-Sterling's Allison Collier during the Falcons' victory on Friday.
Linda Eyer
Ogemaw Heights' Lauren Gillette slips through the Standish-Sterling defense for a shot during Friday's game.
Linda Eyer
Ogemaw Heights' Rilee Palm (left) and Lauren Gillette put the defensive pinch on Standish-Sterling's Abbye Gulvas during Friday's game.
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By Brent Baker|Special to the Independent
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WEST BRANCH — Ogemaw Heights hasn't won a girls' North East Michigan Conference basketball championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1993 and 1994.

The Falcons set themselves up to break that 15-year drought on Friday by polishing off perennial title contender Standish-Sterling 53-36. That victory means Ogemaw — now 7-1 in league play — and Tawas Area (7-0) will have the league title on the line when they meet at Tawas on Friday, Feb. 20.

"The win does set up a game for the conference, but it's a great position for us to be in," said Ogemaw coach Tim Hansen. "All the pressure is on Tawas; we weren't supposed to be here."

The Falcons served notice from the opening tip that they weren't going to let that opportunity escape them, opening up a 17-0 lead before SSC scored the final eight points of the first quarter.

But from there Ogemaw built its lead back 29-15 at the half and put the game away with a 17-9 run in the third quarter.

"When you get down 17-0 it is obvious we were not ready to play," said SSC coach Kevin King. "Ogemaw really has something great going. They play well together and everyone contributes."

All five Falcon starters scored during the big first quarter run, with Rilee Palm pouring in six of her game-high 18 points in the opening frame.

"The post play of Rilee Palm was incredible," King said. "She didn't score in our first game but was awesome Friday.

"Ashley Thompson does a lot of things the right way. She makes everyone around her better and has a complete understanding of the game.

"She is a pleasure to watch but not at all that fun to play against."

The Falcons are relishing their underdog status after having been overlooked as title contenders in the early season.

"We were supposed to finish fourth in the conference going into the season," Hansen said. "Looking at the season previews on Buckland Media and in the Ogemaw Herald, it says that Tawas got past SSC and Glenn for the title last season and 'those three should again do battle for the league title.'"

The loss dropped the Panthers to 9-7 overall (3-4 NEMC), while Glenn has a similar 9-7, 4-4 mark.

The Panthers have struggled offensively this season, adding to the necessity of their defensive pressure to produce backcourt turnovers. That didn't happen against the Falcons and SSC ended up without a double-figure scorer. Kayla Hilyard led the Panthers with eight points.

"I don't think we made them turn the ball over one time with our pressure," King said. "That is amazing. Generally we get something, put playing them straight up isn't a real great option either."

Thompson added 11 points and Kate Morrell scored eight for the Falcons, who improved to 13-3 overall with their ninth straight victory.

The Falcons did, however, suffer a big loss when Paige Bachelder, one of the team's top defenders and rebounders, went down with a season-ending knee injury.

"The win was nice," Hansen said, "but we lost a very important piece to our puzzle when Paige went down ... she'll be missed on the court. Others will have to step up."

The Falcons have a non-conference home game against Oscoda on Tuesday to adjust to her absence, then get ready for their league showdown at Tawas, which tips off at 6.pm. Friday.

"If Tawas wins, then well, they were supposed to," Hansen said. "If we win, then uh-oh. So all the pressure is on them. We're just going to keep doing what we've been doing: play hard, play together and have fun."

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