Pieroni claims scoring record

Published 8:12 pm Saturday, February 15, 2014

Friday held a senior night of big moments for Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s girls’ basketball program.

The Lady Saints were aiming to clinch the regular season conference title outright with a perfect 8-0 conference record, but the visitors from Norfolk Christian High School stubbornly stood in their way.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s Jessica Pieroni drives to the hoop on Friday, which helped her team win and helped her become the NSA girls’ basketball all-time leading scorer.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s Jessica Pieroni drives to the hoop on Friday, which helped her team win and helped her become the NSA girls’ basketball all-time leading scorer. (Janine DeMello photo)

The Lady Ambassadors led by one going into the fourth quarter, but ultimately could not keep up with Nansemond-Suffolk and senior guard/forward Jessica Pieroni, who scored 15 of her team’s 21 second-half points. NSA won 51-45, and she finished with 27 points total, about 10 above her season average.

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However, her big night took on a greater historical significance when she went to the free throw line with 8.1 seconds remaining, the Lady Saints up by four. She hit the first one to make it a two-possession game, but then the contest briefly came a halt to acknowledge she had also just become the new all-time leading scorer for NSA girls’ basketball.

“It was kind of a shock,” Pieroni said. “It was exciting, though.”

The free throw was her 1,540th career point, beating the record of 1,539 set in 1988 by a senior named Kim Aston, the team’s current head coach.

Aston commented on the length of time for which the record had been hers.

“There have been a whole lot of good players who have come through NSA and sometimes certain players are better at scoring, sometimes they’re better in other areas, so it was nice to have held the record for that long, but I don’t think it takes away from others that followed me,” she said.

And she played a key role in helping bring about the new record.

“I’m happy that it was somebody who I coached that broke the record,” Aston said. “I’ve known Jessica her entire life, so that made it a little bit sweeter.”

Pieroni had similar feelings.

“It’s really cool because it is Coach Aston; I’ve known her forever, and she’s been my coach for my whole high school career,” she said. “She’s someone I look up to, and she’s helped me a lot, so it makes it even more special.”

The new record holder’s father, Brian Pieroni, an assistant coach for the team, also has been lifelong friends with Aston. He provided his perspective on the changing of the guard in NSA’s record books.

“I think Kim said something to Jess that probably sums it up,” he said. “And she said, ‘I don’t know of anybody I’d rather have break my record than you.’ I think that said a lot about their relationship, too.”

He also could not help but think of his daughter’s sacrifices and discipline that led to her toppling a 26-year-old record.

“To think Jess would be the one to do that, it’s pretty amazing, and it validates a lot of really long hours and hard work in a gym,” he said.

Aston expected the event to happen on Tuesday when the Lady Saints begin the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools tournament against No. 8 seed Walsingham Academy. However, she was glad for Pieroni that she made it happen during a competitive game on senior night.

“I had a lot of family and friends there,” Pieroni said. “It was definitely a special night for it to happen.”

After reaching 1,000 points last year, Pieroni knew breaking the record was a possibility, but she said, “It wasn’t a main focus. One of my main goals was to win TCIS, which we obviously did tonight for the regular season.”

Norfolk Christian challenged NSA by employing a box-and-one defense on sophomore point guard Harper Birdsong and also a triangle-and-two against Birdsong and Pieroni.

Aston said other players will need to step up in future games, but on Friday, “We were able to gut it out.”

The turning point came when Pieroni followed Aston’s instructions to drive to the bucket and get to the foul line. Pieroni shot 9-for-16 from the field, but also 9-for-9 from the foul line. She had five rebounds and ultimately brought her career points tally to 1,541.

For the game, senior guard Macy Mears had nine points, senior guard/forward Kaylor Nash had six points and seven rebounds and Birdsong ended up with five points, five assists and three steals.

Aston said she felt pretty good about the win, particularly when considering how only five years ago, the team was hovering around .500. The Lady Saints (17-2, 8-0) host Walsingham at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.