Oberlin kicked off the new year in fine fashion, with wins over James Rhodes and Open Door in the first week.
First-year coach Tiffany Shields’ team easily topped the Rhodes Rams 53-24 behind sophomore Victoria Jackson’s 21 points and junior Karissa Rankin’s double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds).
Next, the Phoenix jumped back into conference play, hosting defending Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes champion and perennial powerhouse Lutheran West. The Longhorns were too much for Oberlin as they doubled up 74-37, departing with the victory.
Saving perhaps the best performance of the week for last, Oberlin traveled to Open Door to face the Patriots in non-conference action on Monday. In a double-digit comeback, the Phoenix rose up late and conquered the Patriots 58-55.
Sluggish play, perhaps from the busy week, found Oberlin in a hole and trailing 32-23 at the break. “We weren’t playing with much enthusiasm and energy early in the game,” said Shields. “We were down by nine at halftime but we knew we could play with more energy, which could generate more turnovers, give us more chances.”
True to the coaching message, Oberlin turned up the energy level and amped up the defensive pressure — the Phoenix forced 32 Patriot turnovers on the night, many in the second half — which jump-started the offense.
Trailing 45-34 just seconds into the fourth quarter, Oberlin went on a 10-0 run keyed by a Jackson steal and layup and a Cameron Payne three-point bucket. Payne, a senior, had three from long range on the night, two in the fourth quarter to fuel the Phoenix surge.
The contest remained a one-possession difference the rest of the way. With another Payne score, Oberlin grabbed its first lead since the first quarter with less than three minutes remaining.
Oberlin’s ability to convert from the free throw line proved instrumental in maintaining the edge, as Jackson calmly converted four charity stripe tosses to close out the thrilling 58-55 win. Jackson again led the scoring with 23 points, followed by Payne with 13.
“The girls really responded tonight,” Shields stated. “We’ve played three games in five days so we’ve asked a lot of them, but they really worked hard, cranked up the energy level and earned this win tonight.”