John Bruce, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — At times, if your offense is struggling, you need to turn up the heat on the defensive end.
That’s exactly what Unioto did on Tuesday to stay perfect.
By forcing 28 turnovers, the Shermans (2-0) overcame a slow shooting performance to cruise to a 67-49 victory over visiting Washington in a non-league contest.
“We pride ourselves on our defense,” senior Carissa Wheeler said. “We always say we’re a defensive-minded team. I feel like we all know that we have to contribute on that side of the ball, get after the ball and attack. We take pride on that side of the ball.”
Unioto got out to a quick start, in part thanks to a pair of sophomores.
Classmates Amelia Uhrig and Amaris Betts combined for nine first quarter points, with Uhrig also adding some quality interior work on the glass and defensively, too. Washington, playing with only six varsity players, battled valiantly to keep the game close.
Megan Sever and Aaralyne Estep did everything they could early in the game to keep the Blue Lions within striking distance.
Unioto, seeing that Washington was severely short-handed, turned up the pressure with their eight-person rotation. Karlee Renner, Addison Mohan and the returning Alexis Book put extra heat on the Blue Lion backcourt, forcing 14 first half turnovers.
“The thing about not having Alexis [in the team’s season-opening win over McClain] was that Amaris and Avery probably grew by having to have the ball in their hands,” Unioto coach Jeff Miller said. “But honestly, we’d prefer to get those two the ball at the second level with Alexis being the primary outlet. You could see tonight that she sees the floor well. It was great to have her back.”
The only negative of the turnover battle for the Shermans was the lack of turning those into points on the offensive end. The Tanks struggled to a lowly 30 percent from the field in the first half, including several at-close range chances.
With time running out in the first half, Unioto’s Avery Miller made an outstanding play that gave, albeit temporarily, the Shermans momentum.
Receiving a pass from the right wing, the senior ripped the ball across as she moved to her left along the free throw line and knocked down a tough 15-foot jumper with around five seconds to play. Washington quickly got the ball inbounds to Sever, who took two dribbles and heaved a shot from just inside half court, hitting nothing but the bottom of the net to cut the Shermans’ lead to 27-22 at the break.
All of that momentum that Sever gave the Blue Lions was quickly taken away by the Shermans’ defensive pressure. Behind the trio of guards was Wheeler, who started to put her fingerprints all over the game.
The senior forward deflected multiple passes, blocked shots and even took a charge in the third quarter, effectively neutralizing the Blue Lions’ offensive attack. The Tanks took control of the game with an 18-11 third quarter that was punctuated with a Mohan to Miller fastbreak alley-oop that sent the Unioto student section into a frenzy.
Unioto’s pressure defense pushed the lead out further, with Renner and Mohan winning loose balls and finishing with layups on the other end. Betts took over in the final minutes with a pair of deep 3’s before the benches were finally cleared in the final three minutes of play.
“No matter what it is, understanding and accepting your role for the benefit of the team, that’s just something that goes unnoticed,” Miller said. “If you can get a group of kids to do that, that’s when you can have a great team. I think we do. We have kids that buy into that. Whatever their role is, they want to be the best they can be.”
Betts led all scorers with 20 points, hitting four triples in the process.
“Amaris is one of those kids that can score in bulk and she can score quickly,” Miller said. “She’s a kid that can have three shots and you’ve got nine points. When she sees the ball go through, you can see her confidence increase and it gets her going. Last week, we relied on her a lot with the ball in her hands. Tonight, she was able to play a little more on the wing.”
Uhrig and Miller followed with 10 points and nine rebounds each while Mohan had eight points. Book finished with seven points and six assists.
Washington (1-1) was led by Estep’s 18 points and eight rebounds while Sever added 13 points and 12 rebounds of her own.
Unioto is back in action next Thursday for the start of Scioto Valley Conference play with a matchup against Huntington. Washington returns to action on Friday, hosting Westfall.