March 6, 2008

Eagles top Hurricanes, ending playoff streak


The Lady Hurricanes’ roll toward a state title ended Wednesday night in Greenville, when the team faced the top-ranked, 26-3 East Bladen Eagles in the regional qualifying round of the NCHSAA state playoffs.

Fully aware of East Bladen’s style of play—pounding the ball inside to a big freshman center—Coach Fountain’s game plan was to exploit the Hurricanes’ defensive strength. They planned to press as aggressively as possible, keeping the ball on the perimeter and out of her hands.

Watching as the teams warmed up and then as they settled into tip-off position at half-court, it became clear just what a weapon East Bladen’s freshman center was going to be. She didn’t miss a single lay-up or free throw during warm-ups, and she made the Hurricanes’ biggest woman look tiny.  

The toss went up, and East Bladen took the tip and wasted no time. The Eagles jumped off to an early commanding lead, forcing turnovers, dominating the boards, scrapping every loose ball, and banking 11 unanswered points right off the bat, effectively establishing a point deficit from which the Hurricanes would never recover.  

The Canes look stunned and scared, and they were playing that way, too.  After all, this was the first team all season to ever take the lead on the Hurricanes, and ultimately, the first game the Hurricanes didn’t control from the start.

The Canes weren’t playing their characteristic defense, and they weren’t getting many transition opportunities—the bread and butter of their offense.  Their shots weren’t falling, and they missed several easy lay-ups, which in turn meant that they didn’t get to press like they wanted—East Bladen was controlling the boards.  

“We didn’t get a lot of loose balls and rebounds,” said Fountain after the game. “That would have made a big difference.”

At the start of the second quarter, the score was 14-2 Eagles, with Kristian Head’s late first quarter jumper being the only Hurricane shot to fall.  

The second quarter looked a little better for the Hurricanes. Sophomore Lauren Randall sank several crucial buckets to swing some momentum in Hatteras’ direction, but the team was still having trouble containing the East Bladen’s big girl and converting shot attempts to points.
With so much effort to guard the paint, the Canes were forced to leave the perimeter more open than they would have liked, and the Eagles took advantage of it. They hit their outside shots, penetrated the holes, and rebounded whatever didn’t go in the first time around—frequently scoring off second attempts.

When the Canes left the floor at half-time, the score was a disappointing 32-10.

Coach Fountain gave the girls some encouraging words in the locker room during the half. He reminded them that they had earned the right to be there and that they needed to believe in themselves and play with confidence.

Luckily, the Hurricanes had a lot of support in the stands.  

Anywhere from 100 to 150 people from the community made the drive to Greenville to cheer the Lady Canes on—students, parents, teachers and general fans were all there to give the girls that extra push.  It was great for Coach Fountain to be able to point to the stands and say, “They all believe in you.”

Whatever Fountain said at half-time seemed to work, because the Canes came out with renewed vigor.  Their defense was much more aggressive, and their shooting improved. Paxton Gwin stepped up in the third quarter, grabbing several rebounds and scoring 6 points right off the bat, and Caitlyn Gray proved to be a strong contender under the basket, leading the team with a solid 10 rebounds for the game.

But even with their improved game, the Hurricanes couldn’t overcome the Eagles.  It seemed like East Bladen hit everything they threw at the basket, and through continued control over the boards, earned many second and third shot opportunities.  

Going into the fourth quarter, the game was still the Eagles’, with a score of 55-24. Early in the fourth, Paxton Gwin was forced to come out of the game when she emerged from a struggle for a loose ball with a bloodied lip.  

It looked as if the Hurricanes began to panic a little. Their passes became increasingly erratic, and their shots more and more forced.  Even with their dominating lead, the Eagles kept their first string in the game and ran a four-corners style offense, spreading the floor and holding the ball.

As the fourth wore on, both teams began playing their benches, and the Hurricanes’ bench was able to play some exciting ball.  Freshman Molly Clever and senior Kayla Whitehead each sank a basket, and junior Brianne Rossell blocked a shot that turned into a Hurricane fast break.

With a final score of 63-38, the game went down as the Hurricanes’ fourth loss for the season, and the end of their playoff berth.  After the game, a calm and proud Coach Fountain summed it up nicely: “We played as well as we could.”  

While this was the last game for seniors Jessica Bierlein and Kayla Whitehead, Coach Fountain assured everyone that they had not seen the last of the Hurricanes.  “We will miss Jessica and Kayla, but the core of the team will be returning,” he said.

The team plans to hold workouts and attend team camp at N.C. State University this summer and will start again next fall working their way through the conference and toward the playoffs.
“We’ll be back” Fountain promised. “We’ll be back.” 

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