Oxford 38, Unionville 32
● By Steven Hoffman
Let the record show that Oxford's players—Madeline Williams and Grace Hennessey and Hannah D'Aquanno and Anna Hampshire and Miranda Porretta and Emily Shallow and Jaime Herrin—scored 38 points against Unionville's tough, hustling defense when the two teams tangled on Oxford's homecourt on Jan. 12.
But the reason that Oxford walked away with a 38-32 win at night's end wasn't the offense, but the team's tenacious and tireless defense.
Oxford contested passes, worked hard to grab rebounds, and swarmed around anyone getting close to the basket. In the game's final moments, with the outcome still hanging in the balance, Oxford's defense forced their opponents into three critical turnovers.
“We made a lot of key stops,” explained Oxford guard Madeline Williams. “We all try to focus on our defense.”
It was clear from the very start that this game, with its fast pace and the stellar defensive play by both teams, was going to be one that a basketball purist could appreciate. It was difficult for a player from either team to get a good, unobstructed look at the basket. Strong work on the offensive boards by forward Maddie Shanahan led to a basket by her teammate, Grace Schrof, who was also fouled on the play. Schrof hit the free throw to give Unionville an early 9-5 lead.
A few minutes later, Unionville forward Sarah Covert attempted to drive to the hoop along the baseline, but found Herrin and Hampshire in her path. Unionville was eventually called for traveling, giving the ball to Oxford.
Oxford wasn't being presented with many good scoring opportunities, either. At one point, Porretta, a leading scorer for Oxford, made a beautiful move to maneuver between and around three Unionville defenders on her way to the basket, but the shot just wouldn't drop. At the end of the first quarter, Unionville held a 12-10 lead.
Oxford's defense really clamped down in the second quarter, surrendering just one point—on a free throw by Shanahan—as the team claimed the lead. Williams made a nice pass to Shallow on a fast-break for one score. Williams also made two free throws and closed out the second quarter with a nice move to the hoop for another basket. Oxford held a 16-13 lead at that point.
Unionville worked hard and created some scoring opportunities in the third quarter. Olivia Budow hit a short jumper. Sam Ciccarelli, a sophomore who was turning in a fine defensive effort, made a nice move to the hoop for one basket and hit one of two free throws later on in the third. Shanahan continued to be a force inside, grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring a basket as Unionville cut Oxford's lead to 21-20. The third quarter ended, appropriately enough, with players from each team scrambling desperately for a loose ball and the referee signaling a jump ball. With eight minutes left in the contest, it was anyone's game.
Sophia Detwiler gave Unionville the lead, 22-21, with a short jumper from the top of the key to start the fourth quarter.
Shallow connected on a three-pointer from the left corner for Oxford, but moments later Shanahan buried a three-pointer in response.
Unionville's defense continued to focus in on containing Porretta, but Oxford's sophomore guard found ways to impact the game. On one Oxford possession, she worked her way to the free throw line and hit both free throws. Porretta then came up with a steal and made a strong move to the hoop to end up at the charity stripe again. This time, she made one of two free throws, giving Oxford a 29-25 lead.
A three-pointer by Schrof cut Oxford's lead to 29-28, but Porretta ended up back on the free throw line and gave her team two more points. Shanahan then cut the Oxford lead to 31-30 when she grabbed an offensive rebound and scored for Unionville.
As the game moved into its final minute, Oxford's defense forced Unionville into a turnover. Oxford then put the ball in Williams' hands. She was fouled and calmly stepped to the free throw line and hit both free throws to increase Oxford's lead to 33-30.
After another Unionville turnover, Williams was back on the free throw line and pushed the lead to 34-30.
Detweiler scored a quick basket for Unionville, making it 34-32 with 28 seconds left to play, but they had to once again foul Williams. She made both free throws, and Oxford was up 36-32 with just 18 seconds to play.
On the next possession, Unionville got called for an offensive foul thanks to a good defensive play by D' Aquanno. As Oxford took the ball, Unionville had to foul quickly so Porretta ended up at the free throw line. She made both shots to extend Oxford's lead to 38-32.
Any chance for an incredible comeback by Unionville faded when D' Aquanno and her teammates made another good defensive play along the baseline to ensure the win.
Williams led all scorers with 11 points, including several clutch free throws.
“I wanted to hit them for my team,” Williams explained. “That was a big win for us.”
Shallow contributed 10 points for Oxford, while Porretta added 9 points.
Shanahan led Unionville scorers with 10 points, while Schrof scored 8 points and Detweiler added 7 points.
In the end, it was Oxford's ability to play strong defense that made the difference.
“We work on defense a lot during practice,” explained Porretta, a sophomore.
“It really comes down to practice, honestly,” added Shallow of the team's commitment to playing good defense. “We knew when we needed to make the key plays, and we executed. We're all working hard, and this is where we want to be.”
The team's record now stands at 8-4 overall, and 5-0 in Ches-Mont League games.
Oxford head coach Brian Urig, who is in his first year back with this team, said that he's pleased with the progress that his squad is making. Urig explained that he and the coaching staff have been emphasizing the need to play good team defense to the players.
“We put a lot of time and effort on the defensive end of the court,” Urig said. “We're trying to teach the girls, and to get them to believe that while your offense can come and go, good defense will always give you a chance to win a lot of games.”
Oxford's record, as the 2016-2017 season moves to the home stretch, is certainly proof of that.