Brock Netter, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — Waverly’s Zoiee Smith jokingly admitted that she was less than excited when head coach John Bonifield told her that her and her teammates were running a man-to-man defense this season.
“He told me that and I said, ‘Oh Lord, now we have to run,'” Smith said, laughing. “However, it’s a huge deal for us to play man-to-man and be in shape enough this early to run it successfully. Honestly, it’s sort of fun to be a part of it.”
That defensive gameplan, combined with a full court press from time to time, resulted in the Tigers (3-0, 2-0 SOC II) causing nearly 20 turnovers in a 49-37 win over South Webster on Monday in Southern Ohio Conference play.
“We knew coming in that we had to key on [South Webster’s Faith] Maloney and [Bri] Claxton defensively,” Bonifield said. “Zoiee’s offense is always there, but I was really proud of how she played defensively. There were times she was matched on Maloney, who is a half foot taller than her, but stepped up to the challenge.”
Despite the final margin being double digits, it took awhile for Waverly to get to that point.
With Maloney and Claxton being keyed on from the opening tip, the Jeeps’ Liz Shupert took it upon herself to make an early splash.
After converting an early shot, she later buried a 3 off an assist from Baylee Cox for a 9-6 lead, an edge that would stay at three points at the end of the first quarter by a count of 13-10.
Smith led all scorers with six points after the quarter, but South Webster (1-3, 1-1 SOC II) managed to slow her down. However, that opened things up for Paige Carter and Sarah Thompson.
The duo each scored four points in the second, outscoring the Jeeps alone 8-6, pacing the Tigers to a 23-19 lead at halftime.
“I’m proud of how we played defense as a team,” Smith said. “We’re really putting things together. It’s great to have a group of girls that really fit together so well, and one that tries hard and plays hard like we are.”
Maloney buried a 3 midway through the third to put the Jeeps back ahead 28-26 in what turned out to be their final lead of the night.
Tied at 33 with less than five seconds remainingin the third, Kelli Stewart got an offensive rebound and putback to beat the buzzer and put the Tigers ahead 35-33.
From that point on, Smith took over and dished out two perfect dimes to a streaking Carli Knight, spearheading a 10-1 run that put the game out of reach for South Webster.
“I played really bad against Hillsboro, so all week I’ve been working on improving my game,” Smith said. “I missed lay-ups and threw the ball away too many times, which is something I don’t normally do. So I sat down and really just focused this whole week on improving myself. I’m proud of myself.”
Thompson finished with a game-high 14 points and five rebounds while Smith added 11 points and nine assists. Carter added 11 points and six rebounds.
“Sarah has really been growing more and more by the game,” Bonifield said. “She felt a bit dejected after the first two games, but it was nice to see her be aggressive and attack. Hopefully this game is a springboard for her. She gives us a presence inside the post, she has great hands and finishes pretty well at the basket.”
Maloney and Baylee Cox each finished with 11 points for South Webster, while Cox also brought down 12 rebounds. Shupert added seven points and a team-high four assists.
Waverly is back in action next Monday in SOC II action at Minford, while South Webster hosts Minford on Thursday.