Lady Saints take second place

Published 7:54 pm Saturday, December 22, 2012

Nansemond-Suffolk sophomore forward Sarah Higinbotham looks for options against the First Colonial defense during the championship game of the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy Girls’ Holiday Tournament on Saturday. The Lady Saints ultimately fell to First Colonial 40-34.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s girls’ basketball team took the lead with a bit more than two minutes left to play in Saturday’s championship game against First Colonial in the NSA Girls’ Holiday Tournament. But the Saints were unable to hold on and wound up in second place with a 40-34 loss.

The tournament began on Friday with basketball match-ups between Norfolk Academy and First Colonial, followed by NSA and Kellam. The winners, NSA and First Colonial, faced off yesterday in the championship game.

The Lady Saints, who trailed most of the game, took a 34-30 lead with two and half minutes to play, but let it slip away as the clock ticked to zero.

Nansemond-Suffolk freshman guard Harper Birdsong goes up for two during the Lady Saints’ 40-34 championship game loss to First Colonial at the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy Girls’ Holiday Tournament on Saturday. Birdsong led her team with 15 points to go with six rebounds and three assists.

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First Colonial’s change in defensive scheme in the waning minutes proved to be key.

“I thought we played extremely hard, and I thought we put a good stretch together to come back and go up by four,” NSA head coach Kim Aston said. “The end of the game, they switched from full-court man press to a zone, the same one that we run and practice against every day in practice, and we didn’t make an adjustment.”

The Lady Patriots’ full court press gave the Lady Saints problems throughout the game, creating many turnovers, but the fourth quarter had been a different story. Trailing 27-18 at the beginning of the final period, NSA rattled off 12 unanswered points to grab a 30-27 lead.

Junior guard/forward Kaylor Nash was in chronic foul trouble during the game, which limited her playing time, but her presence in the fourth quarter fueled NSA’s run. She was the first to score and then followed it up with a three-point play.

Junior guard Jessica Pieroni hit a jumper to tie the game at 27. Freshman guard Harper Birdsong drove to the hoop, scored, was fouled and hit the free throw to suddenly give the Lady Saints a 30-27 advantage.

With about two minutes to play, the score was knotted at 34, and First Colonial’s defensive change became the difference in the game.

“We should have known, but it was the difference,” Pieroni said.

“The first time we didn’t even get in position to run our zone press attack and then the second time, we just stood there and didn’t meet the pass,” Aston said. “And so we threw a pass to Harper, and they just stepped right in front and scored it. So, at that point, now we’re down four, and the momentum totally changed.”

The Lady Saints piled up 21 turnovers and frequently had difficulty getting the ball past mid-court with the stifling defense. Aston hoped her team would learn from the game.

Pieroni was fighting illness in the first half and was less effective than usual. She returned for a strong second half, however, ending up with eight points, nine rebounds and four assists. She felt positive about the team’s resiliency.

“I thought we played well,” she said. “The last two minutes got away from us, but we definitely played well getting ourselves back in the game.”

Birdsong led NSA with 15 points and added six rebounds with three assists.

Nash had seven points and six rebounds. Though she played in foul trouble late in the game, her energy on the defensive side was pivotal in shoring up one of the team’s weak points — rebounding.

Aston said her team is not likely to face such a fierce brand of full-court press in conference match-ups, leaving her encouraged about how this game will help strengthen her team as the season progresses.

The Lady Saints (7-2, 0-0) will return from Christmas break on Jan. 3, when they host Trinity Episcopal.