Lady Saints’ storied run ends

Published 10:22 pm Friday, February 28, 2014

A season of unprecedented success for the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy girls’ basketball program ended two wins shy of a state championship on Friday in Charlottesville.

The No. 2 Lady Saints lost 47-36 to No. 3 Miller School of Albemarle in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state semifinals.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy senior guard/forward Jessica Pieroni tries to score during Friday's frustrating 45-36 state semifinal loss to The Miller School of Albemarle in Charlottesville. (Janine DeMello photo)

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy senior guard/forward Jessica Pieroni tries to score during Friday’s frustrating 45-36 state semifinal loss to The Miller School of Albemarle in Charlottesville. (Janine DeMello photo)

NSA head coach Kim Aston said she felt poorly about the game, not simply because her team lost, but because of the way it lost. She said the game was disappointing “because I felt like we were better than this team, and I felt like we lost the game because we didn’t play well.”

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As the Lady Saints’ low score indicates, the problem was on offense.

“We shot the ball the worst that we shot it all season,” Aston said.

Nansemond-Suffolk posted a shooting percentage of 28 on the night.

“Defensively, their big girl hurt us a little bit down low, but it wouldn’t have been a big deal had we been scoring like we typically do,” Aston said.

She said the Lady Mavericks were not employing any kind of unique defensive strategy, but instead were using a nominal press, “just trying to slow us down.”

The Lady Saints were active on the boards, out-rebounding a physical Miller team 30-26. A third of NSA’s rebounds were even on the offensive end, but it could not capitalize the way the Lady Mavericks did when they came up with the ball.

Nansemond-Suffolk held a 22-17 lead at halftime, but Aston said its subpar shooting was on display in both halves.

“I thought the referees missed a few foul calls on our shooters, but we just never really got into the flow, offensively,” she said.

When NSA went to the line, it was accurate, going 10-for-11. Miller was 18-for-26, including trips in the waning moments when Nansemond-Suffolk was forced to foul.

From the field, no one on the Lady Saints roster shot more than 36 percent. Most were 31 and below.

NSA senior guard/forward Jessica Pieroni scored 13 points, senior guard/forward Kaylor Nash had eight points and 14 rebounds and sophomore point guard Harper Birdsong had eight points and five assists. Junior forward/center Caylin Harris added seven boards and senior guard Macy Mears had five points, three boards and three assists.

Aston had no major qualms with her team’s defensive performance, though she acknowledged the challenges posed by Miller’s 6-foot-4-inch junior center Adrienne Darden.

“Against the guards we were fine,” Aston said, but Darden ended up with a game-high 14 points and was prone to getting easy layups when her teammates would pass over the top to her. She was 6-for-9 from the field.

Miller junior guard Lilly Riggleman finished with 13 points, 10 coming off free throws. She shot 11 percent from the field.

As a team, the Lady Mavericks (20-6) only managed a field goal percentage of 33 percent, but it was all they needed.

While the day was defined by disappointment, Aston said as far as the entire season was concerned, she was “really proud of our team and their efforts.”

Asked what she would remember most about the 2013-14 Lady Saints (21-3, 8-0), she said, “I think making a run through the (Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools) and going undefeated and then winning the TCIS tournament.”

She said they did this with unselfish play, a characteristic still on display Friday afternoon, despite the loss.