Offense is still a work in progress under a new head coach and without a dynamic scorer, but the defense has picked up quickly for the South Albany High girls basketball team.
The RedHawks put the pressure on Thursday night and it paid off in a big way, forcing 43 Crook County turnovers in a 59-39 nonleague home win.
“That’s our main focus in practice, because coach says defense wins games,” said South junior Abby Sadowsky, whose team will try to improve on its nine-win total from last season.
Craig Schofield, previously the program’s junior varsity coach, is the new leader. He says the players’ familiarity with himself and returning assistant coach Christopher Mertz has been helpful in the transition.
The RedHawks (2-1) are also moving forward without star guard Katie Mayhue, who graduated last spring and is now starting at the University of Montana.
South’s returners are learning new roles and doing their best to be contributors, individually as scorers and putting the pieces together as a team.
The RedHawks had 26 turnovers of their own Thursday.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do still. We’ve patching holes right now and trying to turn defense into offense. But it’s coming along,” Schofield said. "We’re trying to find our identity and who we are. We knew who we used to be, and now we’re trying to figure out who we are now.”
Thursday, the RedHawks got a game-high 12 points from Cassidy Johnston and Blake Barbee added 10. Morgan Maynard did a little bit of everything, with nine points, nine steals and seven rebounds.
Emma Bales had 12 points for Crook County (0-3).
It appeared as though the Cowgirls weren’t ready for the full-court defensive pressure the home team had for them.
South forced 15 first-quarter turnovers in jumping out to a 9-2 lead and 10-5 after one period. The RedHawks applied the pressure again early in the second and pushed out to a 17-8 advantage.
Crook County eventually settled down to score six straight points. But South turned on its offense in the final two minutes before halftime and again after the break with a 12-3 run that put the RedHawks ahead 29-17.
Sadowsky, a Mid-Willamette Conference honorable mention selection last season along with senior teammate Annalee Flores, had six points in that stretch.
Thirteen of the Cowgirls’ turnovers came in the third quarter. South kept it going on both ends, eventually leading 36-18 and later 44-23 on a Flores conventional three-point play.
Crook County would get no closer than 19 from there, while the RedHawks extended the lead to 25.
Sadowsky says her team is playing well on defense because the players are talking.
“Communication about where the ball is going and all the practice that we’ve put in,” she said. “On defense everybody is always going all out and wanting to get the ball.”
Schofield, replacing Trever Ball as head coach, says that pressure defense is going to be his team’s “calling card” from beginning to end this season.
He’s seen the team grow quickly on defense and cause opponents problems. On the road last week, the RedHawks defeated The Dalles 33-24 before falling to Pendleton, 51-29.
“That’s been the big thing, is they’ve really bought in. They’re disappointed when we don’t go up-tempo with the press,” Schofield said. “It doesn’t matter what the combination is out there, they’ve been going 100 miles an hour.”
Taylor Lewis and Nicole Spriggs added seven points apiece for the RedHawks, who also got five points from Sadowsky and four from Flores.
South has a few days to prepare before opening Mid-Willamette play Tuesday at Dallas. They host Silverton two days later before returning to nonleague action with six contests during the holiday break.