The O’Neal Lady Falcons came out and made a statement Friday night with a 79-44 victory over Salem Baptist to win the Tri-TAC Tournament Championship to match their Tri-TAC regular season championship. The victory closes out another undefeated conference season and seeing the Falcons go 40-0 in conference play dating back to 2017.
Win loss records aside, the Falcons on-court defensive pressure, rebounding and offensive execution made its own statement starting a running clock at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Falcons jumped out to a 16-12 led in the first quarter, priming their defense and rebounding.
In the second quarter, the Falcon offense exploding posting 31 points in the quarter off of 55% shooting from the field. Much of the offensive attack came behind the monster 40-point, 14 rebound, 5 steal night from Hadiya Balser. The mismatch nightmare, Balser posted up smaller guards throughout the evening showing off her finishing abilities around the rim.
Leading the Falcon offense, sophomore Caelan McHarney dictated tempo with keen precision dishing out 10 assists with zero turnovers to go with her 4 points and 6 rebounds on the night. Beneficiaries of the McHarney assists were Kayla Jenkins (12 points) and Aaliyah Balser (13 points, 16 rebounds) who both joined Hadiya Balser in double digits on the evening.
In their third match-up with #6 ranked Salem Baptist, the Falcons let their defense do the talking all evening long creating 12 steals and turned them into 26 points off of turnovers.
“Our defensive pressure gets us going, but match that with the offensive execution we showed Friday night and we will be hard to beat,” reflected Coach Lulu Brase. “All year we’ve been preaching composure and togetherness, and Friday night our kids did both. It was a great night of basketball and we are so proud of these girls for their continued trust in the process!”
The victory in Friday night’s championship moves the Falcons to 23-2 overall and 12-0 in league play heading into the NCISAA 2A State Tournament. Sunday night the Falcons learned they had earned themselves a #1 seed in the State Tournament, home court advantage throughout the opening week of the tournament, and a bye on Tuesday night.
They will start their State Tournament journey on Thursday night in the second round squaring up against the winner of the St. Thomas More and The Epiphany School. The game is set to tip at 5:30 pm at the Hannah Center Gym.
O’Neal is a part of the Triangle-Triad Athletic Conference (Tri-TAC) and is recipient of the Wells Fargo Cup for 2018-2019 as the top athletics program among Division 2 independent schools.
Feature photo: (L-R) Hadiya Balser, Beka Carr, Rachel Patton, Caelan McHarney, Kayla Jenkins, Talayah Baldwin, Miccah Wall, Aaliyah Balser. All photos contributed.