Abbee Rhodes dove hard on the gym floor to barely bat a loose ball back into play.
She saved it, which gaved the Orioles to gain an extra possession, and they made Clearwater pay for it. Taylor Hinnenkamp caught a pass as they were swinging it, but she decided to step up and take a straightaway 3-point shot.
“I know a lot of my shots haven’t been falling consistently, so it was good because it put us up even more in a tight game,” Hinnenkamp said.
Hinnenkamp’s 3 came one possession after Kylie McDaniel buried a 3, too. That gave the Orioles a 38-29 lead early in the fourth quarter in their home game against Clearwater, and they held on the rest of the way for a 45-33 win.
The Orioles, now 6-7 on the season, quietly have won three straight games despite playing four games in a six-day span. The win was their first at home this season. Coach Tracy Anderson was worried that playing so many tough teams in a row would wear on the Orioles physically and mentally, but they overcame that.
“This game scared me, and we played like that the first half,” Anderson said. “…But I was really proud of them because we didn’t play well, but we still grinded and won. I don’t think that would happen in the past.”
Jayden Marlnee did everything she could to get the Orioles started strongly. She had a basket and a steal on the game’s first two possessions. She added a block and an assist in the next couple of minutes.
“As the leader on our team, it’s pretty important because it gets us going on everything,” Marlnee said about starting strongly. “If I’m energized, usually everyone else is energized.”
Later in the first half, though, the Indians made a big swing as they built a 19-10 lead late in the second quarter. Marlnee ended a long drought with a tough floater on the baseline. Kylie McDaniel later hit a huge 3-pointer to cut Augusta’s deficit to 21-15 at halftime.
The Orioles showed toughness and resolve right from the opening of the second half. Abbee Rhodes, Madison Livingston and Marlnee scored baskets on three straight Oriole possessions to tie the game 21-21. Marlnee and McDaniel later hit free throws to give Augusta a 30-27 lead after three quarters.
Meanwhile, the Orioles’ defense allowed six points in the third and only six more in the fourth. Hinnenkamp, Madison Wheeler and Natalie Rockers led the guards’ defensive attack on the perimeter, making life difficult for Clearwater to get into any flow offensively.
“I thought Taylor was great tonight. She just really harassed their point guard,” Anderson said.
“I like the way we finished. We came out in the second half with a lot more energy and enthusiasm,” Hinnenkamp said.
McDaniel got into the act defensively, especially in the fourth quarter. She said an area of her game she’s been focusing on improving is her defense. Tuesday night, and really since the El Dorado tournament, she’s been making big strides, which has helped her on the offensive end, as well.
“During the tournament, I kind of got the hang of both them,” McDaniel said. “Now that I’m getting better at it (defense) and working on it, I like it a lot more. Then it makes me feel a lot better on offense. I feel more confident.”
Marlnee and Rhodes finished with 12 points apiece to lead the Orioles. Livingston and McDaniel both scored eight points apiece. Hinnenkamp finished with five.
With seven games left this season and a road contest against a Collegiate team that the Orioles have fared well against in the past, this is a stretch the team is hoping to build on before sub-state gets here.
“We’re getting stronger, we definitely are,” Marlnee said. “We still have some stuff to work on, but when it comes down to the end of the game, we’re definitely finishing games now.”
“During the middle of the season it’s really important that we get our energy up so we can better go into the end of the season,” McDaniel said. “It all comes down to working harder in practice each day.”