Puckett, Hale Lead Lady Vikings in Blowout

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The Vinton County Lady Vikings (11-3, 5-1) seized control of the Athens Lady Bulldogs (1-10, 1-5) during their 12-0 second quarter run. Following the quick surge of points, Vinton County cruised to a 64-33 victory in front of its home crowd.

“I think our players loosened up a little bit in the second quarter,” Vinton County head coach Rod Bentley said. “Our shooters were able to get open and knock down some shots.”

In a back and forth first frame, the Lady Bulldogs buried three three-pointers to give them some early momentum. Those buckets were short-lived as Athens struggled in the second period, in large part due to the Lady Viking’s stifling defense. For Athens coach Paul McNeal, the difference simply came down to missing open jumpers.

“We went from scoring 14 points in the first quarter to scoring four points,”  McNeal said.

Vinton County senior leaders Michaela Puckett and Jalen Hale led the charge with 20 points apiece. Hale knocked down three of her five shots from behind the arc, while Puckett bruised her way into the lane for easy baskets. Their inside-outside combo on the offensive end gave Athens fits all night long. The two standouts also came to play defensively, combining for 11 rebounds and eight blocks down low.

“I think that Hale and Puckett are two of the best players in our area,” Bentley said. “When they play like that, it takes the pressure off of our other players.”

“The thing about Vinton County is that they have four or five girls that can put up 20 any given night,” McNeal said. Upon crediting Puckett and Hale for their performances, McNeal added, “They are the best team in the league.”

With an offense that only averages 28 points per contest, McNeal was pleased with how his offense was able to execute. However, the Lady Bulldogs continued to struggle with the turnover bug, finishing the game with 25. Bentley’s regular defensive adjustments forced Athens out of the paint and led them to their eighth victory in their last nine matchups.

“Our man-to-man defense is getting better and better,” Bentley said.

Looking ahead, the Lady Bulldogs have yet another tough test ahead as they prepare to host the 9-3 Nelsonville-York Lady Buckeyes on Monday.

“The most important thing for us is to find a way to put together a full four quarters of play,” McNeal said.

As for the Lady Vikings, they improve to 11-3 and the expectations continue to climb.

“We are going to win this conference,” Bentley said with confidence. “We are going to play hard and battle the rest of the way.”

If the Lady Vikings want to prove Bentley’s bold claim, they will be put to the test next week when they face Alexander and Nelsonville-York.