Talent alone was enough to carry the Ooltewah boys' basketball team into the Region 3-AAA quarterfinals Saturday night. But if the Owls are to reach their potential, the consistency that has been lacking over the past week will need to return quickly.
Once the Owls took the lead late in the first quarter they never again trailed, cruising to a 53-41 victory over visiting White County. But it was the slow start, a rash of turnovers, missed free throws and technical fouls called on three players that had Ooltewah coach Jesse Nayadley frustrated afterward.
"We can be as good as any team around here when our guys play the way they're capable," said Nayadley, whose team improved to 24-4 overall. "But the last couple of games, with our backs to the wall in playoff situations, we didn't come out with the inspired effort it takes this time of year.
"I think part of that tonight was our guys feeling like we should win regardless, but good teams still come ready to play. It's very frustrating, but I know ultimately it's on me as the coach to have them ready to play."
Ooltewah will play Cookeville in Tuesday's region semifinals at Cumberland County. Half of the Owls' losses have come to Bradley Central, which also advanced to the region semifinals.
The Owls missed their first six shots and neither team made a field goal until Ooltewah's Jaqueze Robinson sank a 3-pointer nearly six minutes into the first quarter. The Owls closed the quarter on a 6-0 run, and after a 7-0 spurt midway through the second they never led by fewer than 12.
The teams combined to miss 22 free throws, with Ooltewah making just 10 of 22.
"We've been on a slide lately and we all know we need to snap out of it soon," said senior Mikhail Creech, who along with Robinson led Ooltewah with 12 points. "We just have to go back out and prove we're the best team in the region, because we know that we're going to get everybody's best shot."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...