OAK PARK – Oak Park senior guard Ralonda Roberts marked Coach Diane Jones’ birthday on Friday the only way she knew how.
“We wanted to come out and celebrate our coach’s birthday with a win,” said Roberts, who scored 10 points to go along with senior Ariel Walker’s 12 points to lead Oak Park to a 43-36 victory over Troy Athens in an Oakland Activities Association Blue Division girls basketball tilt on Friday.
Oak Park, who improved to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the OAA Blue Division, won just two games last season.
“Our coach tells us we need to rebound to get into transition on offense,” Roberts said Friday. “Rebounds lead to stops and we fast break to score.”
Troy Athens held an early 5-4 lead on Friday, but host Oak Park responded with a 13-0 run to turn a first quarter deficit into a 23-12 lead at halftime.
“What strikes me tonight is we played good defense,” Oak Park first-year coach Diane Jones said Friday as players munched on birthday cupcakes afterward. “Our pressure defense was good.”
Jones, who spent 12 seasons at Detroit Renaissance before arriving at Oak Park this year, said the Knights were playing “good trap defense and executing on offense.”
“This is a game of runs and we knew they were going to make a run,” said Jones, noting Oak Park led 33-17 after three quarters, but a 9-2 run by resilient Troy Athens trimmed the lead to 35-26.
“All respect to them (Troy Athens),” Jones said, “but I was proud of the way we handled it.”
Seniors Marygrace Stark and Lauren Genereau each tallied a game-high 13 points for Troy Athens (2-4 overall, 0-2 OAA Blue).
“The story was we were out-rebounded in the first quarter,” Troy Athens coach Stacie Klumpp said Friday. “We stayed in our zone too long. Their shooters got too many second chance shots. That’s pretty frustrating.”
The Red Hawks were not only out-rebounded on Friday but they also lost the battle at the foul line.
“The other story was at the free throw line,” said Klumpp, noting the Red Hawks’ 5-for-19 effort at the charity stripe.
Oak Park went 3-for-9 at the free throw line.
“In the fourth quarter they (Troy Athens) started playing like we should have in the first half,” Klumpp said. “We try to steal the ball first, then foul.
“But Marygrace Stark hits a couple 3’s for us – she was hot tonight,” Klumpp said. “It was do-or-die in the fourth quarter. We were just outsized.”
Troy Athens could not handle Oak Park’s ‘up-tempo’ game.
“It was an up-tempo game and both teams get fatigued because of that,” Jones said. “We turned up our defense in the first half; they turned it up in the fourth, but we handled the pressure.”
Senior workhorse Deana Williams added seven points for Oak Park, while exciting junior Allison Harris came off the bench and senior standouts Detara McNeil and Breana Allen – all added four points for the Knights.
“We have to stay focused and work hard to be the best,” Roberts concluded Friday as jubilant Oak Park players shared hugs with their teammates and coaches in celebration of both Jones’ birthday and the teams’ third win of the young season.
“It’s a really good thing to be part of this,” Williams said Friday. “We transferred from Inkster – Ariel (Walker) too.”
Jones said she arrived to a girls’ basketball program at Oak Park that had “no tradition and no work ethic.”
“Now we got a bunch of girls who are busting their butts and taking the time to learn,” Jones said. “They are listening and playing well.”