HRA cannot quiet Birdsong, Lady Saints

Published 7:59 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Hampton Roads Academy girls’ basketball team had a good defensive strategy in place on Tuesday night when it visited Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. But sophomore point guard Harper Birdsong and the rest of the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy Lady Saints adapted and out-played the Lady Navigators for a 49-38 victory and at least a share of the regular-season conference title.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy senior guard Macy Mears competes during Tuesday’s home victory in which Hampton Roads Academy’s defense forced her to take on a different role.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy senior guard Macy Mears competes during Tuesday’s home victory in which Hampton Roads Academy’s defense forced her to take on a different role.

HRA ran a box-and-one defense, specifically designed to limit Birdsong. NSA head coach Kim Aston said the Lady Navigators basically “tried to keep the ball out of her hands so she couldn’t even initiate the offense.”

Initially, the plan was successful in disrupting the Lady Saints’ offensive flow, forcing senior guard Macy Mears to run the point and employ plays to which NSA is less accustomed.

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“The good part about it was that we played well enough to stay in the game and then well enough down the stretch to win,” Aston said.

This was in no small part due to Birdsong, who ran counter to the trend Aston cited. The coach said players defended by the box-and-one tend to fade into the background, deferring to teammates.

“Harper just played a great game,” Aston said, after Birdsong’s game-high 19-point performance on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, including two three-pointers. “She was extremely efficient when she had the ball in her hands.”

Birdsong explained her approach to HRA’s strategy.

“I think I took it as a challenge, and I think the rest of our team stepped up,” she said.

She acknowledged the defensive scheme pushed NSA out of its comfort zone early, but as the game went on, “I think we got more comfortable with it, and we learned how to deal with it.”

With fewer touches, Birdsong had three assists, four below her average, but Mears picked up the slack with six assists to go with five rebounds and two steals.

Senior guard/forward Jessica Pieroni contributed 14 points, six boards and three steals. Senior guard/forward Kaylor Nash, who had been out for the last two games due to injury, made a key difference in her return, scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds.

Despite the Lady Navigators’ efforts, the Lady Saints were accurate offensively, shooting 51.4 percent from the field (19-of-37), 50 percent from three point range (3-of-6) and 80 percent from the foul line (8-of-10).

“I thought we took really good shots last night,” Aston said on Wednesday. “We didn’t force a lot of things.”

She said on defense, the Lady Saints managed to slow Hampton Roads Academy’s top two players — senior guard Braysia Hicks and freshman guard Rachel Lia. They had nine and 14 points, respectively.

Nansemond-Suffolk was playing without junior forward Sarah Higinbotham, who turned her ankle during Monday’s 72-2 decimation of Peninsula Catholic High School.

Aston said it is going to be a push to get her back by today’s regular season finale against Norfolk Christian High School, “but that’s what our goal is.”

This marks the first season since the 1990s that the Lady Saints have earned at least a share of the regular season Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools title. Should NSA win today’s scheduled game, it will win the title outright.

Birdsong communicated her enthusiasm about the team’s success.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “We’re really pumped up, and this is our season.”

Barring a cancellation, Nansemond-Suffolk (16-2, 7-0) hosts Norfolk Christian in a contest scheduled for tonight, senior night, with a 5:30 p.m. tip-off.