TCIS crown returns to NSA
Published 10:44 pm Saturday, February 27, 2016
The Nansemond-Suffolk Academy girls’ basketball team came into the conference tournament on top, and on Saturday, it also left the tourney on top.
The No. 1 Lady Saints pulled away late from No. 2 Cape Henry Collegiate School on Saturday to win 53-47 and claim the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools tournament championship before an energetic crowd at Norfolk Christian School.
NSA senior guard Harper Birdsong was key in the final minutes, handling the ball against the pressure of the Lady Dolphins’ defense and hitting free throws and a key basket that helped push out the lead significantly.
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Birdsong relished the opportunity to taste victory again in the TCIS final.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I’ve been wanting to do this again since we won it two years ago, and we lost last year, so (winning it) was definitely my first goal going into the season.”
She knew the suffocating Cape Henry defense would be waiting for her on Saturday.
“I think the key that was different from last year is I just didn’t get frustrated,” she said. “I knew what to expect going into it, I knew it would be tenacious defense, but I didn’t let myself get flustered, and I just kept playing.”
Last year’s 36-25 loss to the Lady Dolphins in the championship game was fresh in the mind of Lady Saints coach Kim Aston, as well, informing her reaction to this year’s win.
“It feels really good, especially after last year, coming into a tournament as the No. 1 seed and losing the game,” Aston said. “It was very physical, and I think emotional for both teams. Both teams played really hard, but it definitely is a great feeling coming out on top.”
Nansemond-Suffolk went undefeated against TCIS opponents this year and 3-0 against Cape Henry. Its first win against the Lady Dolphins came at home in overtime, 67-55, on Jan. 12, and then it traveled to Virginia Beach on Feb. 11 and won 51-35.
On Saturday, the Lady Saints led 12-7 coming out of the first quarter, but then Cape Henry won the second period 18-10 to take a 25-22 lead at halftime.
The tide turned in the final 16 minutes of play, though, as NSA outscored the Lady Dolphins 15-9 in the third quarter and 16-13 in the fourth.
“In the second half, we were able to keep Kelly (Hogan), Caroline (Hogg) and Harper on the floor the majority of the time,” Aston said. “The first half, we were in a little bit of foul trouble.”
NSA also got a key assist from one of its newest players.
“In the second half, I felt like Abby Herrod came off the bench and provided a big lift for us, defensively,” Aston said. “She’s a very good defensive player, and she was able to stay right with (Kennedy) Beale and not give up a lot of penetration, so we were able to get some good shots, made them take some tough shots, and Kelly Hogan was a beast on the boards.”
The Lady Saints’ defensive game plan was focused on limiting Cape Henry’s star junior guards, Kennedy Beale and Stephanie Seaman.
Beale managed to get 21 points on 8-for-18 shooting, while Seaman scored 14, going 5-for-22 from the field.
Against Seaman, “Lindsay (Knierbein), Logan (Harrell) and Abby, and then Sasha Roberts played in the first half on her a little bit, so those four were matched up,” Aston said.
Birdsong finished with a game-high 28 points, along with four rebounds, two assists and two blocks, and she left her coach impressed.
“She has been, for the last two years, double-teamed, triple-teamed,” Aston said. “They’re fouling her, in my opinion, up and down the floor just about the entire game, and because she’s good, and she’s strong, she doesn’t get a lot of those calls, and she has to play through it, so I just think it was a really gutsy performance.”
NSA junior forward Kelly Hogan finished the game with 20 rebounds and six points, and junior guard Logan Harrell led the team with five assists.
Aston was pleased with the play of senior center Caroline Hogg in both Thursday’s semifinal and Saturday’s final.
“I thought Caroline had an excellent two games,” the coach said. On Saturday, “she was big the first half. I’d say the first three or four minutes of the game, she had to have six or seven blocked shots. And I don’t know how much she scored tonight, but her defensive presence, that kind of sets the tone.”
Hogg registered seven points, 10 rebounds and six blocks against Cape Henry.
“I think everyone did really well, but the one play that stood out was Lindsay Knierbein taking it down, making a layup and one, and then she made the free throw — that was a key play,” Birdsong said, noting the shot came in the final two to three minutes of the game.
Knierbein, a junior guard, recorded nine points and eight boards for the game.
Nansemond-Suffolk (22-3) returns to action on Wednesday in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state quarterfinals.