Shorthanded Falcons can't hold off Oakies

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner

Eric Daniels didn’t know what to expect when he rolled out three freshmen in Van Horn’s starting lineup during the season opener on Monday.

The youngsters hung tough for three quarters but Oak Park rallied late for a 37-26 victory at the Van Horn Fieldhouse.

“I just told them I’m extremely proud of them,” Daniels said. “We played a full game with five players and three of them are freshmen and we lost by 11. We led most of the way and it is a good building block for something to turn around and work and get ready for the next game.”

The starting featured one senior in Lexi Robinson, a junior in Rhiannon Blackburn and freshmen Katherine Greer, Lynn Walls and Emari Smith.

Robinson did most of the heavy lifting for the offense, scoring 16 of the 26 points for the Falcons, who are coming off a 15-9 campaign last year.

This year started with lower-than-expected numbers. The Falcons had only seven girls available for this game, but Daniels expects to have two more back in the rotation by the end of the week.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Daniels said of starting so many underclassmen. “I just wanted them to compete and I think they did that. I’ve been preaching come out and compete and live with the results.”

Six of the nine are either freshmen or sophomores and Daniels surmised some of the issues with kids not coming out dealt with fear of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Falcons (0-1) led at the end of the first two quarters, 7-5 after the first and then 13-11 at halftime. Oak Park (2-1) scored the last two baskets of the second to trim the six-point deficit down to two and rode that momentum into the second half.

The Lady Oakies tied the game at 18 and then took a 20-18 lead on a layup from Lynsie Bishop, who had a team-high 10 points, with 5:40 to go in the third.

Robinson’s fourth and final 3-pointer gave the Van Horn a 24-22 lead with 3:41 to play in the third, but that turned out to be the last basket for the home team.

“She is our leader and I told her we will go as she goes,” Daniels said of Robinson, the lone senior on the roster who has signed with Southwestern (Iowa) Community College. “I told her she will have to shoot the ball more. You will miss some and you make some, but keep shooting.”

Sophomore Sophie Depetre hit a jumper with 2:53 left in the third to give Oak Park the lead for good. That was part of a 14-0 run to close the contest for the Oakies, who are in a bit of a rebuilding mode as well.

Oak Park has been led by Paige Allen in recent years and she left quite a legacy. She scored more than 2,000 points in her career and is starting and averaging 10 points per game as a true freshman at Division I Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. 

Last year, Allen accounted for more than half of the offense for Zane Tanner’s squad, tallying 27 points per game for a team that averaged only 50.

“We are just real young and inexperienced,” he said. “Paige did so much for us last year that we are trying to figure out who can score and what their role is. We started real sluggish the first two games and by the second half we have more confidence and figure out what they are doing. They trust each other and if we continue to do that, we will see improvements.”

The Falcons were set to open the season on Dec. 3, but Raytown South had to call off the game due to COVID-19 precautions. Van Horn will travel to Knob Noster on Thursday before facing Kansas City Southeast and Northeast the following week.

“The next game isn’t promised so we will take what we can take, take who is here and play ball,” Daniels said. “This is our first test run and I’m proud of them. I’m looking forward to fighting with them this season."