Junior forward Sara Messler and her Oyster River High girls basketball team are quietly having a very strong season. Following their 57-45 road victory vs. Windham on Saturday afternoon the Bobcats have won 6 in a row and are 12-3 overall. Messler dropped a game-high 33 points on Saturday in the win. Messler has scored 30+ points in 4 of their last 7 games. She is making a case for D-II Player of the Year honors.
"She's one of the best players in the state" said Oyster River head coach David Burrows.
Oyster River went jumped out to a 10-3 lead to start the game, they had an 11-0 run to start the 2nd quarter, and outscored Windham 16-8 in the 4th quarter. In addition to Messler dominating inside they forced the Jaguars to turn the ball over 15 times. The Bobcats' full court press was effective throughout the game.
"We make it very difficult on most teams with our press" said the 5-foot-11 Messler, a potential scholarship prospect. "If we've got our defense down the shots will come."
In the 2nd half they had 5 turnovers in a row and that was the difference" said Coach Burrows. "All year we've won with defense. We haven't been shooting well so we had to grind it out with defense."
Messler scored early and often, both on the low block and with mid-range jumpers. Right off the opening tip she hit a turnaround bank shot from the elbow. Teammate Rosie Tarvainen was left wide open underneath for a put-back and then Messler drilled a 15-footer to make it 10-3 Bobcats 2 minutes into the game. On the other end Windham answered back, as freshman guard Kaleigh Walsh showed good effort by rebounding her own miss and putting it back in for 2.
Momentum continued to swing in the Jaguars' favor, as 6-foot-1 sophomore forward Casey Dinga (11 points and 12 rebounds) came off the bench and made an immediate impact. She went hard for an offensive rebound, turned and used a power dribble before going up strong for the and-1 finish. Dinga missed the free throw, but Windham got the offensive rebound and Hannah Klassens (team-high 12 points) drained a 3-pointer to cut the Oyster River lead to 15-12. Just seconds later though, Messler hit a turnaround jumper out of the post from 15 feet.
The Jaguars closed out a high scoring 1st quarter on a positive note, as they got a steal and then Klassens buried a shot from just inside the 3-point line. Windham quickly got the ball back, and Dinga converted another put-back. The Jaguars had taken their first lead of the game, as it was 18-17 Windham after 1 quarter.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, that would be the one and only time they led all game. Messler finished an and-1 put-back to start the 2nd quarter, as the Bobcats regained the lead 20-18. Messler then connected on a pull-up jumper from the foul line to make it 22-18 Oyster River (Messler already had 13 points).
Messler then scored inside to make it 28-18 Bobcats and cap an 11-0 run to start the 2nd quarter. Finally Windham ended the run, as Dinga converted another put-back. On the next trip down the floor Dingan pulled down yet another offensive rebound, going up strong with it, getting fouled and making 1 of 2 FTs. Messler hit another turnaround bank shot, and it was 30-24 Oyster River at halftime.
"I always try to go inside first then work my way out" said Messler. "I was driving in the beginning, because the shots weren't falling as much. I took it inside more when they went small and she (Dinga) wasn't in."
Windham came out with more intensity to start the 2nd half. Walsh made a good take, slashing to the rim on the break for an and-1. They cut the Bobcats' lead to 30-28 but were still having problems with the Oyster River press. Tarvainen hit a 15-footer, but Dinga answered back for Windham by taking it strong to the bucket for 2 more. Then Elizabeth Cilia had an and-1 finish for Oyster River off a baseline out of bounds play and it was 40-34 Bobcats with 1:52 left in the 3rd quarter. Windham was hanging tough, trailing 41-37 after 3.
The Jaguars continued to struggle against the Bobcats' press, turning it over twice early in the 4th quarter. After the second turnover, Messler finished a layup and then on the next trip down she hit a turnaround bank shot. Then on defense Messler blocked a shot. Then teammate Gabby Spang drained a 3 from the left corner off the catch. Oyster River was really rolling now, up 50-39 with 5:47 left in regulation. They cruised from there for the 57-45 win.