HRA topples Saints in semifinal

Published 11:41 pm Thursday, February 21, 2013

The consistent pressure brought by Cape Henry Collegiate’s defense proved to be the determining factor in Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s fate during the semifinals of the TCIS tournament. The top-seeded Lady Dolphins won 61-44 on Thursday evening at Hampton Roads Academy.

NSA junior power forward Kaylor Nash’s words reflected the team’s reaction to the game.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy junior guard Jessica Pieroni finds her way around a Cape Henry defense that limited her chances to score on Thursday night.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy junior guard Jessica Pieroni finds her way around a Cape Henry defense that limited her chances to score on Thursday night.

“Obviously disappointed,” she said. “We really wanted that, I think everybody on our team wants it, wants to win these games, but we improved since last time we played them, so that’s a plus, I guess.”

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Unlike the teams’ last meeting on Jan. 31, this was not a blowout.

“We just can’t turn the ball over against pressure,” Lady Saints head coach Kim Aston said. “That’s the key.”

Cape Henry is undefeated this year against teams in the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools. Nansemond-Suffolk lost 60-35 last time, but on Thursday, they only trailed by six after the first quarter. They fell behind by 15 at halftime, but cut it to nine at the end of the third, and came within eight during the fourth.

“We basically played with them for three quarters,” Aston said. “I think the second quarter is probably the only one that we were out-played in.”

The stifling full court press of Cape Henry began to yield steals in the second quarter, leading to a series of easy fast-break layups for senior guard/forward Alexis Smith, who ended up with a game-high 28 points. The Lady Saints had 30 turnovers on the night.

“They were pressing me hard every time down, pretty much, and I just got tired,” NSA freshman Harper Birdsong said. “I threw away the ball a lot.”

“Coach told us to keep it off the sidelines because they were trapping there, so that was a point of emphasis,” junior guard Jessica Pieroni said.

“We didn’t really do that,” Birdsong said.

In the fourth quarter, Pieroni completed a three-point play to pull NSA to 52-44. Aston used this juncture in the game as example of what plagued her team.

“We’d make a run, and we cut it to eight with like three minutes to go, and then they come down and score, and then we turn it right back over to them and they score again,” she said. “So, now it’s 12. And that’s kind of how the whole night went.”

While Cape Henry’s defense was the story of the game, Nansemond-Suffolk’s was what helped keep the game interesting.

“We were playing a match-up zone and I thought we did a nice job with that until we had to come out of it and play man-to-man because they were going to hold the ball,” Aston said. “Even in the third quarter, beginning of the fourth, I kept waiting for them to step out and hold the ball, and they didn’t do it, so I said, ‘Well, we’ll keep playing the zone as long as we’re somewhat catching back up with them.’”

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy junior power forward Kaylor Nash drives to keep ahead of Cape Henry's defense during Thursday evening's semifinal game of the TCIS tournament.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy junior power forward Kaylor Nash drives to keep ahead of Cape Henry’s defense during Thursday evening’s semifinal game of the TCIS tournament.

It was once Cape Henry went up 12 in the fourth that they did start holding the ball.

Kaylor Nash has proven especially valuable against Cape Henry because the Lady Dolphins are a very physical team. Nash’s physicality translates into a variety of things that help her team.

“Kaylor just always gets a lot of junk points for us,” Aston said, referring to points scored off of a missed shot or after grabbing a loose ball.

“She gets a lot of rebounds,” Aston continued. “I think one particular play I remember in the first quarter, she just came crashing the boards from the weak side, got a rebound, put it back up and scored. And she has to play strong like that for us because we’re not physical in the three guard position.”

“Our three guards which are Harper, Jessica and Macy (Mears),” Aston said. “None of them are real physical players. The first time we played Cape Henry, Kaylor had 18 rebounds — pretty much carried us.”

She grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds Thursday night. Nash’s mindset was simple: “Win,” she said. “From the beginning, just get everything.”

Cape Henry made Pieroni a focus of their defense at times, which proved to be effective in causing NSA’s offense some problems. In the teams’ first meeting, Pieroni only shot 30 percent. This time, she shot 83 percent but only had six shots from the field to go with three free throws, managing to wring 13 points out of her limited opportunities. Birdsong also had 13. Sophomore forward Caylin Harris was effective near the basket, despite being hit by pressure, scoring eight points.

The strength and ability that the Lady Saints (17-9) have shown this year means they are not done yet. Rankings generated during the season by a committee of officials working with the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association determine who gets a berth in the state tournament. NSA has been selected, though seeding to determine when and where they will play next week will not be known until Sunday night.