The Westerville South High School girls basketball team lost its first OCC-Cardinal Division game last Friday, but the Wildcats still have started strong despite being a young squad with a new coach and a key injury.

The Westerville South High School girls basketball team lost its first OCC-Cardinal Division game last Friday, but the Wildcats still have started strong despite being a young squad with a new coach and a key injury.

The 44-42 loss to Dublin Jerome dropped the Wildcats to 4-2 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Cardinal.

"We're still learning," coach Silas Williams said. "We have two girls (returning) that played consistent varsity (minutes). (The Jerome game) was a building block for us. We're not going to put our heads down. We're going to come in and put in more work. It's just about everybody catching up and being on the same page."

South had been trying to develop its chemistry with guards Erica Aiello and Morgan Neighbors leading the way. The team building took a hit with Aiello forced to sit out with an ankle injury sustained during the offseason and re-aggravated during a 41-37 win over Westerville Central on Dec. 8.

Aiello had been developing into the consistent player her coaches and teammates expected. She scored 20 points in a 59-55 win over Briggs and 10 in a 59-53 win over Olentangy Liberty before going down against Central. In addition to last Friday, she also missed a 36-31 win over Dublin Scioto on Dec. 10.

"Erica has energy like no one else has," Neighbors said. "She brings it on the floor every time she plays."

Luckily for South, it has multiple guards capable of leading the team in scoring in Neighbors and Lindsey Gerhart. Neighbors scored in double figures in five of South's first six games. She had 34 points against Liberty, 17 against Central and 20 against Jerome.

Gerhart led with 26 points against Briggs. She had nine last Friday, but three came on a 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds remaining. South had fallen behind by double digits in the fourth quarter, but that shot gave the Wildcats a final chance.

Jerome missed one of two free throws and South advanced the ball to its side of the court with a long pass, but the Wildcats couldn't get a shot off before time expired.

"The chemistry is getting strong," Neighbors said. "We're coming together as a team, not just as individual players."

To help the process along, Williams has allowed his guards to play with more freedom.

"I'm putting the ball in my guards' hands and they're making plays, and they're making everybody better until we can build off of that," Williams said. "I'm not surprised in my guard play. Sometimes you have to let the good ones play a little bit and let them make everybody better."

After last Tuesday's game against Marysville, South doesn't play again until a home league game against North on Jan. 5.

Before last Tuesday, North, South and Olentangy led the OCC-Cardinal at 3-1, a game ahead of Jerome, Scioto and Central (2-2). Marysville was 1-3 and Liberty 0-3.

•The boys team keeps rolling along.

It dominated Jerome 86-50 last Friday. During its 5-0 start, the Wildcats have beaten opponents by an average margin of 25.3 points.

South plays Watterson on Dec. 30. The Eagles traditionally have preferred to play slow, but they don't have as much size this season and are playing more up-tempo.

Watterson, which won a Division II district championship last season, returns two players in Brad McCurdy and Connor Geraghty. With its football team winning the Division III state championship, the start of Watterson's basketball season was pushed back from Dec. 6 to last Friday, when the Eagles lost to Worthington Christian 53-43.

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the South boys and girls basketball teams:

BOYS

Dec. 13 - Defeated Reynoldsburg 82-78. Traevon Jackson scored 27 points and Isaiah Rogers added 17.

*Last Friday - Def. Dublin Jerome 86-50. Stephen O'Daniel scored 16 points and Jackson added 15.

*Last Tuesday - Played Marysville

Dec. 30 - Home vs. Watterson. The Wildcats won 66-50 last year.

*Jan 4 - At Westerville North. The Wildcats won 49-47 and 71-55 last year. North def. Dublin Scioto 61-40 last Friday to improve to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Cardinal.

Of note: The Wildcats were 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Cardinal before last Tuesday.

GIRLS

*Last Friday - Lost to Dublin Jerome 44-42. Morgan Neighbors scored 20 points and Lindsey Gerhart added nine.

*Last Tuesday - Played Marysville

*Jan. 5 - Home vs. North. The Wildcats won 45-39 and 53-36 last year. North lost to Scioto 47-41 last Friday to fall to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Cardinal.

Of note: The Wildcats were 4-2 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Cardinal before last Tuesday.

*OCC-Cardinal game