THURMONT — Playing her second game since being out with strep throat, Oakdale senior Aubrey Austin admitted she still wasn’t 100 percent.
“I’m just trying to get back and catch my breath from running up and down the court,” she said.
Not surprisingly, there were times Friday when Austin — whose shooting ability is a strength — struggled to hit shots.
But Austin still managed to score a game-high 14 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers early in the third quarter, to help the Bears pull out a 43-33 win over a Catoctin team that put up a good fight despite missing its top two scorers.
Austin’s ability to be effective on a night when she wasn’t at full strength epitomized her team’s season so far. Despite missing several key players at various times — some of them for the rest of the season — Oakdale has an 11-1 record, with its lone loss coming to powerful Middletown.
“We’re just finding ways each night,” Oakdale coach Rob Healy aid. “Tonight was different than some other nights. Each night, we just try to write the story so it turns out nice.”
Heading into the second half, it looked like this story might not offer a happy ending for the Bears. They only led 18-16 against Catoctin, which was turning in a solid showing despite missing top scorers Emma Wivell (who hasn’t been feeling well) and Courtney Eyler (who was at a softball tournament in Florida).
But the Bears, who have coped with the loss of point guards Zoe Star and Rachel Horning, once again prevailed.
“We just get it together no matter how bad we’re playing in the beginning, no matter how bad of a start it is,” Austin said. “We just find a way to come together at the end and pull it together and find a way to win.”
Austin’s back-to-back 3s gave the Bears a spark early in the third quarter. So did Nikki Etchison’s fast-break layup, which came after she got a steal on the defensive end, dribbled down the floor and spun around a defender in the paint.
Etchison finished with four steals, and she used her hustle on defense to force a crucial jump ball down the stretch, giving the Bears possession to help fend off Catoctin’s bid to pull even.
“We usually put Nikki on the other team’s best guard. She’s able to move her feet, slide her feet and not foul,” Healy said. “She plays hard. She’s very aggressive on the defensive end. Always looking to get steals.”
Etchison takes pride in her defense and trained over the summer with Jess Racz, a Middletown coach, to improve her footwork.
“I’ve always been quick with my feet, and that’s always been my strong side,” she said. “And I also play lacrosse, so that also helps me with my defense.”
Sam Foster had 13 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and three assists for Oakdale. Sami Hardesty, who was sidelined earlier this season, had 10 rebounds. Etchison had three assists.
The Cougars (9-3) made the Bears work hard despite the absence of Wivell and Eyler, Catoctin’s top rebounder.
“We got better tonight. We have lofty goals at the end of the season, and this helped us big-time,” Cougars coach Amy Entwistle said. “None of us are happy that we lost, but the girls are really proud of what they did tonight as far as how they fought.”
Catoctin was led by sophomore Lily Gadra, who had 12 points and five rebounds. Entwistle called Gadra a sparkplug, whether she starts or comes off the bench, and praised her shooting.
“But what I love watching her play is defense because she just works so hard,” the coach said. “Whoever she’s matched up with, they’re going to have a difficult game, and she’s going to make them work for everything they get.”
Emily Williams had nine points for the Cougars.
Catoctin’s Chayney Barnhart had six rebounds, while Madi Tobery and Lillian Burgee each had five. Paige Smith and Tobery each had three steals.
Oakdale won the JV game 52-10. Madison Lilly and Mikayla Carey each had 12 points for the Bears.