Two teams. Five points. One sweep.

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 22, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

The journeys that the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy basketball teams took to reach the finals of the Academies Christmas Classic at Isle of Wight (IOW) Academy this past weekend couldn’t have been more different. Fortunately, in the end, the results were nearly identical.

In the tournament opener on Friday night, the girls thoroughly dominated an overmatched Williamsburg Christian team 61-11. Lexi Holland scored 12 points, Ann-Taylor Spain 11 and Parris Grieder and Claire Leonard 10 apiece in the rout.

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The boys, on the other hand, chose not to play until the second half of their battle with Tidewater Academy. After the Eagles raced to a 22-10 halftime lead, NSA had to scrape their way to a 41-39 victory, capped off by two free throws from Todd Harrell with six seconds left. The Saint defense made the difference, as the team held TA to a single fourth-quarter field goal.

So while the male squad was ready for a brawl as the tournament reached the final game on Saturday, the girls might have been coasting. It took getting blown out 17-8 in the second quarter, a run that gave the host Lady Chargers a 26-20 halftime advantage, to wake them up.

Coach Jill Van Guilder stormed into the locker room and let her squad know exactly what wasn’t happening.

&uot;I sat them down and told them that I had done everything I could possibly do, and that they needed to find among themselves the level of intensity,&uot; Van Guilder said. &uot;Then I left.&uot;

With their coach gone, the Lady Saints tried to find the lost source of aggression. &uot;We were very sluggish on defense,&uot; Leonard said. &uot;It was our third game in three days, and we were tired.&uot; The Lady Saints fell to Western Branch the day before the tournament.

&uot;The fact that we were down was ridiculous,&uot; said Holland. &uot;We’d never played that poorly against Isle of Wight. We just really wanted to leave for Christmas break with a win.&uot; She helped NSA do so in the third quarter, scoring six of her team-leading 17 points as the Lady Saints outscored IOW 10-2, leaving the contest tied at 30 as the final period began.

The Lady Saint defense held their opponents to only two field goals, but free throws kept the Lady Chargers alive, as the Smithfield squad made four one-pointers. With her team down 37-36 with just over a minute remaining, Leonard yanked the ball away from a Lady Charger and raced into the IOW paint, the 5’6&uot; guard defying several larger players to get in her way.

They did so, fouling her. Leonard bounced the ball a few times, then launched her first free throw. It missed.

&uot;I was really upset,&uot; she said. &uot;I knew I had to make the last one to tie the game.&uot; She did so for her first points of the contest, tying the score.

But Leonard wasn’t through; she pulled down an errant IOW shot and bombed a pass to Spain, who scampered past the IOW foul line. She tossed up a jumper, and it slipped right through the nylon for the lead, sending the NSA side of the IOW gym into hysterics.

The Lady Chargers weren’t finished. Fortunately, neither was Leonard. As the clock ticked past 10 seconds, she grabbed another rebound and sauntered up the sideline to run out the clock.&uot;

Holland was named the tournament Most Valuable Player, and Spain made the All-Tournament squad.

&uot;I was excited, but I thought a lot of people played a good game,&uot; Holland said. &uot;As soon as we start playing all four quarters of every game, I think we’ll win more and more.&uot;

The boys’ game started off much the same as their TA battle had, as the Chargers nabbed a 16-10 first quarter lead. Before they could blow the game wide open, however, NSA dominated the second quarter to end the half ahead 24-21.

As tough as the first half had been, the game became a virtual war in the second. NSA outscored their opponents 14-13 in the third quarter, but the Chargers lived up to their name by hauling to within 42-39 with just over two minutes to play.

Then NSA delivered a pair of knockout punches. The first came in the form of a Kyle Jett three-point play

to up the lead to six. IOW scored to knock the lead back to four, but, just as Harrell had against TA, Gillette headed to the free throw line in the final seconds for the points that could make or break the championship.

&uot;My coach always tell me to think about one thing (at the one-point line), and that’s keeping my elbows square and lined up with the basket,&uot; he said. &uot;That’s where your shot is going.&uot; He proved how effective the advice was, swishing both for the insurmountable margin.

&uot;I was very relieved, because the pressure was off,&uot; Gillette said. He and Harrell, who combined for 29 points, were named to the All-Tournament team.