Bringing the pressure

Published 8:40 pm Thursday, June 30, 2011

Team Evolve’s Jayla Hemingway drives against a Lady Clipper player during Team Evolve’s 44-29 win in the semifinals of the AAU Fifth Grade Division II National Championship in Hampton Thursday. Team Evolve, based out of Lakeland, beat a Syracuse team in the quarterfinals and the Lady Clippers out of Maryland in the semis to reach Friday’s championship game.

Team Evolve playing for AAU national title

HAMPTON — Coaches in all sorts of sports at all levels preach defense. Suffolk’s Team Evolve girls basketball team displayed back-to-back clinics going one step more, playing such tough defense it usually turns into offense, to reach Friday’s championship game of the 2011 AAU Fifth Grade Division II National Championship at the Boo Williams Sportsplex in Hampton.

Team Evolve blitzed through pool play earlier in the week with a 22-point win over New Hampshire’s state champion and a 40-point win over a Washington, D.C. team.

The Suffolk squad, made up entirely of Suffolk players, continued through the round of 16 on Wednesday with a 53-28 win over the New Orleans Lady Trojans.c

Team Evolve center Amesha Miller shoots against the Lady Clippers, a Maryland AAU team, in the second half of a semifinal game in the AAU Fifth Grade Division II National Championship in Hampton on Thursday. Team Evolve, with a 5-0 record in the tournament, plays Cincinnati Heat Premier in the national championship game Friday afternoon.

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Down to the final eight on Thursday morning, the Syracuse Nets gave Team Evolve its first challenge of the tournament before Team Evolve pulled away in the last couple minutes for a 44-36 victory.

“Defense, especially pressure defense, that’s what we’re trying to be known for,” said Team Evolve head coach Kevin Davis.

Team Evolve’s defense shocked the New York visitors for a 5-0 lead. The Nets asserted the tempo they wanted to play for the rest of the first period. Team Evolve point guard Makayla Dickens hit a three-pointer at the horn of the quarter to make it 10-10.

Team Evolve turned the pace and pressure up starting the second period. A steal led to Jayla Hemingway’s basket for a 14-10 lead.

Straight off a defensive rebound, Briana Autrey rushed the ball up the court and assisted Dickens for a lay-in. Seconds later, Dickens picked off a pass in the backcourt and made another lay-up, making it 19-10.

Team Evolve opened the second half with eight straight points. Center Amesha Miller and swing player Camry Harris, just seconds apart, grabbed boards from Syracuse misses and drove coast-to-coast for baskets in the 8-0 run for a 31-17 lead.

The battle of styles swung again, though. When Syracuse handled Team Evolve’s pressure and made it a half-court game, they fought back into the game every time. Syracuse worked within a possession, 37-34 Team Evolve, into the last two minutes.

A Syracuse three-pointer went in and out. Team Evolve got the board. On the ensuing possession, Miller pulled down an offensive rebound and scored in the paint. Miller got another board and basket for a 41-34 lead with 1:22 left.

Autrey swooped in on Team Evolve’s pressing for a steal, turning it quickly into a lay-in by Dickens and Team Evolve led 43-34 with 1:13 left.

Dickens finished with 18 points. Miller had 12 points and 15 rebounds. Harris added 10 points and nine rebounds.

“Briana (Autrey) is unselfish and wouldn’t say so herself, but she’s probably averaged 15 steals a game for us. She’s a one-man press for us,” Davis said.

The national semifinal was close before Team Evolve dominated the fourth quarter for a 44-29 win over Maryland’s Lady Clippers.

“Our defense is amazing right now compared to what it used to be for us,” Dickens said. “I think we built up a lot of energy to play these tough teams. Usually, we use our press to get the other team tired in the first half.”

Team Evolve jumped out to a 6-0 lead. Much of the first three periods was a hectic defensive contest. The turning point came late in the third with Team Evolve clinging to a 21-20 lead, or perhaps in Team Evolve’s recent practices.

Davis had his team stay an extra half-hour per practice at Lakeland the last couple weeks in preparation for the national tourney.

“And all we did was run,” Miller said.

“It’s paid off with more speed and stamina,” said Mykaylyn Davis, “It was so we can be in this game (in the final).”

Harris and Autrey turned Clipper turnovers into fast-break baskets for the last four points of the third period.

Miller scored in the low post on Team Evolve’s first possession of the fourth. The pressing defense kept coming. Harris turned a steal into a 2-on-1 break and a lay-up for a 32-20 margin and 11 straight Team Evolve points in the final seconds of the third and the first 1:20 of the fourth period.

Harris led Team Evolve with 21 points. Dickens added 10 points.

Team Evolve will meet Cincinnati Heat Premier for the national championship Friday at 3 p.m.