OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee opened up a 15-point halftime lead and then held off a Hardee Wildcat rally in the second half as the improved to 4-1 with a 46-35 victory Thursday night.
Cheyenne Nunez had 17 points and Raeley Matthews had seven points, 10 rebounds, and four steals for Okeechobee.
Okeechobee led 17-5 after the first quarter and 26-11 at halftime. Hardee outscored Okeechobee 17-6 in the third quarter and stayed within four points of the lead until the final four minutes of the game.
Coach Joe Smith said it was a defensive game and his team did a good job adjusting to the Hardee’s strong inside players.
“Once we got a handle on that down low, we settled down, ran our offense and the girls pulled out a victory,” he noted.
Smith admits the team is vastly improved this year because of travel ball and hard work. He said the girls are more confident, know their assignments, and have improved their individual skills.
“All that work paid dividends tonight. I think basketball in general is doing big things around Okeechobee right now,” he added.
Smith pointed to freshman center Raeley Matthews as an example of what he is trying to do for basketball. Matthews hardly touched a basketball in her life before the season started. In less than a month she has shown remarkable improvement.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing when I first came out here,” she admitted. “I think I have the hang of it now. I’m getting better at man-to-man defense, and even my shot is better.”
Lahna Baker had five points, two steals and two assists for Okeechobee. The transfer from Lake Placid has provided leadership, ball handling and great energy for the team.
“The transition back here has gone very well. I’m glad that I came back to Okeechobee because I missed it here. I’m just trying to be consistent and try to catch up to Cheyenne, it’s a game of catch up right now.”
Shy Ash had eight points, two blocks and five rebounds after some early foul trouble for Okeechobee.
Ash scored six points in the fourth quarter when the team needed them most.
Baker said the team didn’t expect Hardee to play man-to-man defense and it took them awhile to make the adjustment.
“We worked through it and pushed through and never gave up. I think the team has definitely improved and I’m real proud of my girls,” she added.
Okeechobee opens up their district play at home on Monday when they host Jensen Beach at 6 p.m.
Okeechobee also won the junior varsity contest.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News