The early part of the basketball season was full of struggles for the Oak Ridge Lady Wildcats.
But things have gotten better over the past two week as they have won five consecutive games after dropping eight of their first 11 contests.
Two of Oak Ridge’s first victories, however, were District 3-4A wins as it knocked off Powell at home on Dec. 6 and went to Fountain City and toppled Knoxville Central on Dec. 9.
Since Christmas, the Lady Wildcats (8-8 overall, 2-0 in the district) have constantly found a way to get into the win column. And Saturday night, ORHS made a long trip to Cleveland and returned home with a narrow 54-52 win against the Lady Raiders, a team that edged it 56-54 at Wildcat Arena on Dec. 13.
“That was big to go down there and get that one after we lost to them by two at home,” Lady Wildcats Coach Paige Taylor said. “We knew they were a good basketball team and that was a big win for us on the road.”
Oak Ridge had a pair of players post double figures in the scoring column at Cleveland as Dimitria Strickland had 14 points and Ze’Yana Stewart added 12. Jenna Johnson finished with eight points for the Lady Wildcats, who opened the week with a 72-37 win at home against longtime rival Clinton.
Stewart had a game-high 29 points, while Strickland had 24 and Johnson finished with 11.
While Taylor is happy with her team’s recent victories, she said that she’s seen improvement even during the tough time.
“I thought we were turning the corner even in the games that we weren’t winning,” she said. “But when we went to Greeneville (for the Andrew Johnson Bank Ladies Classic holiday tournament), the girls had a different look in their eyes.
“We played some good teams up there and we lost that first game to Thomas Dale (the No. 1 team in Virginia) by four. When you go up there, you go to win the championship, but if you lose, your goal is to play on Saturday. If you lose on Thursday or Friday, you don’t play on Saturday.”
The Lady Wildcats started their run in Northeast Tennessee and notched wins over Mercer County (Kentucky), Providence Day (North Carolina) and Pikeville (Kentucky), and brought that momentum home when they faced the Lady Dragons.
“We had the win against Clinton early (last) week and then we won at Cleveland,” Taylor said. “Clinton is a good team, but it’s hard when you’re young. We were young like that last year. We’re young this year but our sophomores played a lot last year (as freshmen) and it’s a big transition from middle school to high school.”
The Lady Wildcats are back in district play this week and played a game in Knoxville against West High on Tuesday. Results were unavailable at press time.
Oak Ridge will travel to Karns Friday night, where Taylor will match wits against her former assistant Lauren Trent, who has the Lady Beavers playing competitive basketball. Taylor said her players must treat the contest like any other league tilt.
“For us, this is just another district game that we have to go over there and win,” she said. “Sure, we scout and we know what other teams are doing.
“But at the end of the day, it’s about Oak Ridge and it’s been that way ever since I started coaching here.”