Lady Saints edge Bishop Sullivan

Published 8:57 pm Saturday, January 10, 2015

Clutch offense and defense during the last seven seconds of Friday’s game against visiting Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School ultimately gave Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s girls’ basketball team a 51-50 victory.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy junior guard Harper Birdsong aggressively fights the defense of visiting Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School on Friday night.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy junior guard Harper Birdsong aggressively fights the defense of visiting Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School on Friday night.

“I don’t think we had our best game tonight, but we definitely played as hard as I’ve seen us play so far this year,” NSA coach Kim Aston said.

Lady Saints junior guard Harper Birdsong led all scorers with 23 points to go with four assists, three rebounds and two steals, and she scored the winning point of the game on a free throw with 6.3 seconds remaining.

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Despite the impressive numbers, Birdsong was not quite firing on all cylinders.

“She just didn’t shoot the ball well from the perimeter,” Aston said. “Other than that, of course, she handled the ball 95 percent of the time, so she did a nice job (in) that regard.”

Nansemond-Suffolk trailed 25-24 at halftime, and Aston knew what she wanted to see out of Birdsong during the last 16 minutes of play.

“I was trying to get through to her in the second half that she needed to get all the way to the basket,” the coach said.

Birdsong was following this instruction during the Lady Saints’ critical offensive possession at the end of the game, when the score was 50-50.

“I knew that I was probably going to try to score the winning shot,” Birdsong said, then added that she might have dumped it down low to junior center Caroline Hogg or to someone on the block if it seemed like a good option.

“I kind of shot it, and I was luckily fouled,” she said. “Thank God I made one of the free throws.”

She endured the pressure after missing the first.

“You just rely on all the practice you’ve done and the muscle memory,” she said.

After taking the one-point lead, NSA’s task turned to defense, and it started with sophomore forward Kelly Hogan.

“I put her on the ball to try to make them have a tough way of getting the ball inbounds so they couldn’t just rear back and throw it long,” Aston said, and the measure was effective. “They made a short little pass to a guard,” and then tried to work the ball up the court.

On the Lady Crusaders’ second pass, Hogg interfered, and though the visitors got the ball, they were called for traveling, essentially ending the game.

Birdsong noted the Lady Crusaders shot “lights out” Friday night and are a really good team, “so it felt great to win.”

She cited a coaching move by Aston as key to the victory.

“We went from zone to a man (defense) in the fourth quarter,” Birdsong said, adding that this made NSA more effective against the three-point shot.

Aston highlighted some other standouts from the game.

“Caroline was very slow getting started, but she had a big second half,” she said, as Hogg finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.

Two sophomore guards proved trustworthy and made significant contributions.

“Lindsay (Knierbein) and Logan (Harrell) both came in and played some key minutes,” Aston said. “They were both on the floor at the end of the game.”

Senior guard Bridget Murphy also drew praise from Aston for her rebounding.

Pondering which are the top teams in the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools, Aston brought up schools such as Bishop Sullivan, Cape Henry Collegiate School and Norfolk Christian School.

“I think that we’re fully capable of winning the TCIS, but it’s not going to be an easy task,” she said.

Nansemond-Suffolk (8-2) is ranked No. 2 in a Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state poll. The Lady Saints visit Cape Henry on Tuesday.