Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — When Caitlyn Brisker is firing on all cylinders, Oak Hill is a tough out.
But when the Oaks get two double-digit scoring performances to go alongside Brisker’s usual productive night, they’re practically unbeatable.
In a Division III district semifinal on Thursday, Brisker scored a game-high 22 points. But the senior received help in the form of 12 points each from Olivia Clarkson and Brooke Howard.
That trio was the driving force behind a 58-44 win over Chillicothe Southeastern.
The Oaks’ prize is a trip to the program’s first district final since 2012, where they’ll meet with top-seeded Eastern Brown.
“It’s a lot of emotions but mostly, I’m just really proud of my team,” Clarkson said after the win. “I’m really proud of our seniors because they were almost [in a district final] their freshman year. We really do want this really bad. I think this is the year where it all comes together.”
Peaking at the right time is critical to lengthy tournament runs … no matter the sport.
The Oaks (16-8) seem to be doing just that.
After edging out Eastern Meigs by a 52-50 final, Oak Hill beat Northwest with a sectional title on the line to advance to the district semifinal — the Mohawks had beaten the Oaks twice during the regular season.
Then came Thursday’s win, which included a terrific effort on the defensive side of the ball.
“Defense has been a point of emphasis all year and it’s really coming together now,” Oak Hill coach Doug Hale said. “We locked [Southeastern] down defensively and they struggled late and got into some foul trouble. We put the game away at the free throw line … just really proud of the girls.”
Early on, Southeastern (20-5) received a heavy dose of Brisker, who outscored the Panthers 6-0 until the 5:18 mark in the first quarter.
“Cait is huge. She came out and got us started early in the first quarter and it looked like the emotion, she just needed a break to catch her second wind,” Hale said. “Once she catches her second wind, she’s one of the top players in Southeastern Ohio, if not all of Ohio. We’re very fortunate to have her on our team.”
After SE’s Macie Graves scored the Panthers’ first bucket, a triple, Sierra Mitten tied the game 8-8 with 2:18 left to cap a 6-2 run. By the beginning of the second, the game was tied 14-14.
The two traded punches in the second before Brisker hit a buzzer-beater, giving the Oaks a 27-25 lead at halftime. That followed a steal from Howard, who found Brisker open for the trey.
“I just thought our kids kept our energy,” Hale said. “For Brooke [Howard] to make that steal right before half and then Caitlyn [Brisker] to splash that shot, that was huge for us. We came out and carried that momentum into the third quarter.”
That they did.
Chloe Chambers scored 13 seconds into third quarter action before both Howard and Peyton Miller dialed long distance to put Oak Hill on top 35-25 with 6:23 left. The Panthers managed to cut that lead to five at one point but still entered the fourth down 44-34.
That double-digit lead stayed intact throughout the majority of the final eight minutes while the Oaks hit their foul shots down the stretch to upset the No. 4 seeded Panthers.
“I thought Chloe [Chambers] covered [Southeastern’s Skylar] Hice well. We had seen enough film on her and had scouted her,” Hale said. “She’s a tremendous player. That’s a great team over there. You don’t win 20 games and not be very good. We just took the attitude that seeds mean nothing right now. We want to play and we want to practice tomorrow.”
Brisker added five assists to her 22 points and Clarkson tallied seven rebounds to go along with her 12 points. Howard finished with seven points, Chambers had seven and Miller had five.
For the Panthers, Graves led with 15 points while Hice had nine. Cidney Huff added eight points and eight assists while Alexis Bailes ended the night with five points and nine boards.
As Southeastern’s season comes to a close, the Oaks will now meet with the Warriors at noon, Feb. 29 at Waverly’s Downtown Gym.
“It’s been awhile [since Oak Hill played in a district final],” Hale said. “We have a makeup game with West on Saturday, so we’ve got to stay healthy through that and plan our practices out. We used to be [at the district level] all the time but this young group hadn’t done it yet. We’ve got a plan and we’ll be prepared for Saturday.”
Oak Hill: 14-13-17-14 — 58
Southeastern: 14-11-9-10 — 44
Oak Hill: 20-37 FG, 14-16 FT, 4-10 3 pt., 18 rebounds (Clarkson 7), 9 turnovers, 7 assists (Brisker 5). Scoring: Brisker 22, Clarkson 12, Howard 12, Chambers 7, Miller 5.
Southeastern: 16-38 FG, 7-11 FT, 5-15 3 pt., 15 rebounds (Bailes 5), 10 turnovers, 9 assists (Huff 8). Scoring: Graves 15, Hice 9, Huff 8, Bailes 5, Mitten 3, Ruby 2, Skeens 2.