NSA girls advance

Published 11:22 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fifth-seeded Walsingham Academy visited fourth-seeded Nansemond-Suffolk Academy on Tuesday in the first round of the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools tournament. The Lady Saints started slow, but ramped up their aggressiveness on offense in the second half for a 51-32 victory.

“I thought — considering we had people in some different positions in the first half — we did pretty good,” NSA head coach Kim Aston said.

“But the second half, definitely, we attacked more on the offensive end, which we have to do,” she said. “If we just stand out and pass, that’s what teams want to make us do.”

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The Lady Saints had just a five-point lead after the first quarter, and the Lady Trojans matched them point-for-point in the second period, trailing only 23-18 at halftime.

Freshman point guard Harper Birdsong was the centerpiece of Nansemond-Suffolk’s offensive push in the second half, scoring repeatedly on drives to the hoop. She shot 57 percent from the field for the game and led her team with 20 points and 10 assists.

“We had better ball movement, less turnovers, good defense, good rebounding, we just played really well,” Birdsong said of her team’s second-half play.

“I think in the beginning we were rushing a lot and didn’t contain and have composure,” NSA junior guard/forward Kaylor Nash said. “Second half, we did a lot better with our composure.”

The lead stretched to 10 for the Lady Saints at the end of the third quarter, as they also held Walsingham to six points.

“(The Lady Trojans) have two good guards, (Charnissa Chillers) and (Ashley Barnes), so we were prepared to try to put more pressure on them than the other three, and I thought we did a pretty good job with that,” Aston said. “We got in some foul trouble early, so we went from (man-to-man) to a zone, and actually the zone worked out a little better for us.”

As they had during the final weeks of the regular season, the Lady Saints again benefited from the emerging presence of junior guard Macy Mears. She was the team’s second-leading scorer, with 11 points, going 3-of-6 from three point range. Aston said Mears is simply doing what the coaches have hoped for all along.

“At the beginning of the year, she wasn’t looking to score, and the first time we played Walsingham, she had zero points,” she said. “We’ve told her from the beginning of the season I want her shooting at least 10 times a game.”

Now that Mears is looking to score, other benefits have arisen aside from the points on the scoreboard.

“It takes pressure off of Harper and Jessica (Pieroni) because (other teams) can’t focus on those two defensively,” Aston said. “And Macy also plays better — it gets her pumped up a little bit when she hits a couple threes or scores some points.”

Mears also had four steals. Pieroni had a relatively quiet night with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists, and freshman center Caroline Hogg had eight points, five blocks and three offensive rebounds.

“I thought Caroline Hogg played really well,” Aston said. “She played the whole first half and she played a lot of the second half, so she’s gone from not playing very many minutes some nights to playing the whole time.”

Aston also complimented sophomore forward Sarah Higinbotham, specifically for her contributions in the first half.

Nash, who was one of three players held out until the third quarter for disciplinary reasons, came in and made a significant impact, grabbing a team-high seven rebounds in one half of play.

After a tough 0-3 stretch to close out the regular season, Aston relayed the coaches’ advice to the team entering the tournament.

“We said, ‘This is a tournament, this is a new season, it’s time to pick things up, pretty much do or die at this time of the year,’” she said. “So hopefully that’s incentive enough to go out there and play. I don’t think anyone’s ready for the season to be over with yet.”

Nansemond-Suffolk plays No. 1-seeded Cape Henry Collegiate in the semifinals tonight at Hampton Roads Academy.