First time face-off

Published 8:18 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2010

First Baptist and Nansemond-Suffolk started a new chapter to their respective athletic histories Monday evening at NSA with the Lady Crusaders and Lady Saints meeting for the first time in any sport as the first part of a hoops doubleheader.

Nansemond-Suffolk, in its fifth decade and a long-time member of the Tidewater Conference, defeated First Baptist, in its third season of playing varsity sports and in its only game against a TCIS school this season, 61-28.

“Going into tonight, the girls were extremely nervous,” First Baptist head coach Kelli Overton said.

Through the opening half, as the Lady Saints (6-3) rolled up a 31-11 lead by halftime, NSA’s quickness and defensive pressure clearly dealt the Lady Crusaders (5-4) challenges they haven’t faced very often.

In the opening possessions, it seemed the Lady Crusaders might trade punches with NSA. While NSA forced numerous First Baptist turnovers right from the start, the Lady Saints struggled shooting from the field.

Sophomore guard Virginia Hassell, who’s averaging just over 17 points per game for the Lady Saints, made a pair of free throws and senior forward Grace Saunders followed by finishing an NSA fast break with a jumper in the paint to make it 8-4 NSA. Those points sparked a 13-0 NSA run. NSA led 17-6 after a quarter and forced 15 First Baptist turnovers in the quarter.

“We’re trying to be more of a pressing team, but honestly, we’re trying to find a defense we can play well right now,” said NSA head coach Kim Aston.

The Lady Saints came into Monday’s game after a 72-51 defeat against Hampton Roads in a non-conference game. Aston said NSA’s defense and lack of turnovers by the Lady Saints kept them in the game for a half against HRA, but the second half was a different story.

First Baptist’s one big charge of the night came to open the third period. The Lady Crusaders scored buckets on their first four possessions. Meredith Overton canned two of them, both on long jumpers, and Overton’s second hoop made it 33-19 NSA.

Saunders switched things back around for the Lady Saints, scoring back-to-back baskets in the lane. NSA then scored the last seven points in the quarter to have a 45-23 advantage going to the fourth period. NSA won the last eight minutes 16-5.

First Baptist’s tallest player, but also one of the team’s best ball handlers, Becca Ballance, led the Lady Crusaders with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Overton and Victoria Carr added six points each.

“We gained some confidence just playing versus a school this big and just hanging in there. Hopefully this also improved our sense of team like we’ve wanted to all season long,” said Kelli Overton.

“Our players led out there and played with a good attitude. We’ll gain that playing against bigger schools and one day we’ll be there right with them,” Overton said.

NSA had six players score between seven and 12 points. Saunders and Jessica Pieroni scored 12 points each. Sarah Baldwin led the Lady Saints with 11 rebounds. Hassell had 11 points, seven rebounds, five steals and four assists. Eighth-grader Macy Mears added eight points, six assists and five rebounds.

“We need to get that balance. It won’t be exactly like this every night, but we need people to feel confident on the floor and know they can contribute,” Aston said.

First Baptist hosts Voice of the Believers on Friday evening, with the girls game starting at 6 p.m. Nansemond-Suffolk hosts Collegiate (Richmond) on Friday at 5:45 p.m.