A stifling defensive effort led Oakton’s 50-31 victory over South County in last Saturday afternoon’s Northern Region girls’ semifinals basketball contest played at Robinson High School. The victory advanced the Cougars into Monday night’s championship game (see related story) and earned them a trip into this week’s eight-team Virginia state AAA playoff field.
Oakton (22-1), which a year ago captured the region crown before reaching the state finals, was the better team from start to finish in the semifinals win over South County, a team that played nervous and tight throughout most of the game. The Cougars took control early, building a 13-2 lead after one quarter and holding a 26-13 advantage at the half. Oakton remained in control after three quarters, 37-24, and pulled away even more in the final quarter.
Oakton, for the most part, played efficient, mistake-free basketball. The Cougars passed the ball well in their half court game and ran the court well when the opportunities were there. Defensively, they hounded the South County guards and did a good job denying the ball to junior standout center Simone Antwi, who seemed to be swarmed by Oakton players every time she touched the ball. Antwi, who is 6-foot-2, finished with a hard-fought nine points while pulling down 14 rebounds. South County’s Fatu Conteh, a senior guard, led the Stallions with 10 points.
Oakton guards Caroline Coyer and Zora Stephenson, both staples on last year’s state runner-up team, scored 19 and 18 points, respectively, to pace the Cougars. South County had no answer for stopping Oakton’s outside shooting prowess. All game, for the most part, the Cougars were working the ball and ultimately getting open looks at the basket from three-point range. South County, too many times, allowed Oakton players uncontested long range shooting opportunities.
The results were the Cougars converting eight three-pointers to none for South County. Although the Stallions out-rebounded Oakton, 29-23, that statistic was more than offset by Oakton’s 24 points off of three-point shots to South County’s none.
Stephenson, a junior shooting guard, knocked down four three-point treys. She set the game’s tone with a three-pointer from the left corner to open the contest’s scoring. Later in the quarter, she drained another long-ranger from the corner to make it 11-2.
Coyer, meanwhile, made three, 3-pointers in the game. One of those, from the left corner, came three minutes into the second quarter to build Oakton’s early lead to 19-6 and force the Stallions to call a timeout as the Oakton student body roared its approval.
Oakton did not have any other players, besides Coyer and Stephenson, score in double figures. But in this game, more offensive firepower was not needed. The Cougars did receive solid all-around efforts from such players as junior shooting guard Danielle Davis (one three-pointer, 6 rebounds), senior center and team tri-captain Brieneke Matthes (6 points), sophomore guard Katherine Coyer (4 points, 4 rebounds) and freshman backup center Elizabeth Manner (5 rebounds).
While Oakton looked unfazed by the game that would either earn it a trip to states or end its season, South County played nervous and tentative, especially early on when the Stallions made several poor passes and scored just two first quarter points. It never really got better for South County, which has played in far fewer postseason games in recent years than its counterparts.
A sequence in the final couple of minutes of the first half, in which Oakton flawlessly ran the court for a couple of consecutive fast break layup baskets from Caroline Coyer and Stephenson to complete a 7-0 scoring spurt and make the score 26-10, seemed to well sum up a game in which Oakton totally outplayed its round of four foes.
The win was Oakton’s 10th in a row since experiencing its lone loss of the season – a 46-42 Concorde District setback to visiting Robinson on Jan. 15.