O’Fallon senior forward Isabelle Akoro has become known for bringing energy and toughness to the Panthers on the floor.
After a lackluster start against Highland on Sunday, O’Fallon got rolling as Akoro kick-started the Panthers to a 63-50 win in the third-place game of the 33rd annual Scott Credit Union Highland Tournament at Highland High School.
Akoro has been rounding into shape after coming back from an ACL injury in October, but against Highland, she was able to attack the basket and disrupt the Lady Bulldogs normally-efficient offense with physical defense and rebounding. Akoro finished with nine points.
“She stepped out and made a big three and she handled the ball a lot in transition and she does a lot of good things,” Highland coach Clint Hamilton said.
The game started off well enough for the Lady Bulldogs as Kirsten Taylor’s three-ball put them up 14-13 for the first time since a 5-2 lead early in the first quarter.
Highland sophomore post Bella LaPorta was forced to sit the second quarter after picking up a pair of first-quarter fouls and that allowed Akoro and fellow Panther big Amelia Bell to be more active in the paint.
After Akoro’s bucket, the Panthers hot-shooting guards Kayla Gordon, Makayla Best, and Bell, heated up quickly. Gordon, Bell and Ashley Schloer knocked down shots and the lead expanded to 29-16 in the final minute of the half.
“We’re kind of like a slow starting team when we get out there, so whenever, I have the opportunity to like get a hit a shot or get a stop, I get it and it gets everybody going,” Akoro said. “Even if it’s just getting a rebound or blocking a shot, it gets everybody going.”
Akoro’s energy was a big plus for O’Fallon (18-5).
“She’s finally healthy and you can finally see the confidence in that girl all the way up to tonight,” O’Fallon coach Nick Knollhoff said. “She’s attacking the rim and knocking down open shots and step out an open three, so her game’s right where it should be,”
Highland (18-7) continued to struggle to hit shots in the third quarter as Ako, Bell, and the Panthers guards continued to score and pushed the lead to 42-25 late in the third quarter.
“When they made a couple of shots and spread it (the lead) out to 10 or 12 and we just couldn’t get enough stops to get it back down,” Hamilton said.
The Lady Bulldogs never were able to get closer than 12 points in the final stanza.
Bell led the Panthers with 17 points.
Taylor led Highland with 16 points and Ellie Brown added 11 points.
The win was a good finish to the tournament for O’Fallon after losing in the semifinals on Friday to Civic Memorial.
“We knew coming in it was going to be tough on their home floor but I’m proud of the kids for the bounce back,” Knollhoff said. “I’m just proud of the girls for coming back after a loss in the tournament because its hard for some teams to come back and I thought we played really well.”
For Highland, finishing fourth in the tournament Lady Bulldogs to refocus for the final two weeks of the regular season. “We’re a little bit disappointed but we’ve got a couple of weeks refocus and regroup a little bit and go into February on an up note,” Hamilton said.