February 27,  2009

Hurricanes fall to Chargers in the sectional finals


There were no celebrations in the Hurricane locker room last night, Feb. 27. No cheers, no high-fives, no lighthearted jests. There was mostly silence, broken now and again by the words of a stunned coach and the muffled sobs of nine heartbroken young women.

There wasn’t much that coach Earl Fountain could, or needed, to say.

When the final buzzer sounded in last night’s 66-58 sectional final match between the Hurricanes and the Weldon Chargers, it ended the Hurricanes’ 2009 season and their playoff berth and closed the high school basketball careers of seniors Caitlyn Gray, Brianne Rosell, and Kristian Head.

“We panicked,” coach Fountain said after the game. “They came out and put pressure on us, and we totally panicked.”

Expectations for the game were high. The teams had similar records, Weldon 24-2 and Hatteras 23-2, and had experienced similar outcomes against opponents they had both faced—huge victories over Columbia and a common loss to Manteo. 

They also seemed pretty evenly matched. Both teams like to play aggressive defense and run the floor, and both teams boasted quick, athletic guards that could be just as dangerous from the perimeter as they were off the dribble.

The only problem was that the Hurricanes hadn’t really faced an opponent that was as good as they are.

Nevertheless, coming off an impressive victory over South Roberson the previous night, the Hurricanes came out looking strong and confident. They seemed to know exactly how to handle the new level of competition they were facing, and they had a great first half. 

To combat the Chargers’ very hands-on defense, the Canes did just what they had to do—they spread the defense out and took the ball to the hole, knowing they would either get a layup or draw a foul. 

Junior guard Paxton Gwin absolutely shredded the lane in the first half, showing impressive ball control while weaving in and out of Weldon defenders on her way to the hoop.

More often that not, she got a clean shot off, and if someone stepped over to cut her off, she dumped the ball to the man left open—textbook penetration.

The Canes also showed superb execution of their offense in the first half, swinging the ball around the perimeter with poise while a series of screens and cuts produced an unprotected lane and a wide-open look.
And that’s just if they had to set up at half-court.

About midway through the first quarter, the Hurricanes tore the Chargers’ full-court zone press apart.

They found all the holes in the defense, and through sharp, accurate passes, the Canes not only avoided the Chargers’ deadly sideline trap, they managed to get the ball down the court faster than the Chargers could adjust, repeatedly finding the backside man, freshman forward Maggie Easley, whose closest defender was at least 10 feet away.

They scored the vast majority of their first-half points under the basket, where Gwin and freshman forward Maggie Easley proved to be a dynamic and unstoppable duo. With 12 and 10 points, respectively, Gwin and Easley combined for 22 of the Canes 31 first-half points.
On the defensive end, the Canes played a vigorous zone, applying full court pressure, denying the paint, and, for the most part, forcing the Chargers to play a perimeter game.

Weldon guards Shantel Malbry, Latecia Johnson, and Taketa Hamiel weren’t afraid to take the outside shot, but their attempts weren’t falling, and, once again, the Hurricanes did a great job of getting in position and attacking the boards.

The Canes were looking really good. They had picked up a lot of momentum and amassed a comfortable lead. 

So when Gwin picked up her second foul midway through the second quarter, Fountain didn’t think twice about taking her out and saving her for what would no doubt be a hard-fought second half.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Fountain said after the game. “I probably should have left her in. I don’t know, maybe we could have gotten a bigger lead, kept some momentum.”

In Gwin’s absence, the Canes’ turnover rate increased substantially, the overall quality of their play declined, and they didn’t score until a three-point buzzer-beater by senior Caitlyn Gray just seconds before the half.

The Canes still had a comfortable 15-point lead at halftime, but their performance in the second half of the quarter turned out to be a sign of things to come. They had given the Chargers a window, and that was all they needed.

Watching the second half was like watching a whole separate game, played by two totally different teams.

The Chargers came out with renewed vigor, upping the ante with even more defensive pressure and an increasingly aggressive offense.

They were on the Canes like white on rice, and the Canes couldn’t handle the pressure. Their turnovers skyrocketed, and their momentum slowly dwindled.

They made sloppy passes that the Chargers picked off, they didn’t run their offense, and they stopped trying to penetrate the lane.  They couldn’t get their shots to fall, not even their layups, and the Chargers had taken control of the boards. 

Flustered and panicked, the Canes lost control, and the Chargers, led by guards Malbry and Hamiel, staged a bold comeback.

They continued putting up outside shots, but this time around, they were hitting them, and the Canes never adjusted their perimeter defense.

They left Malbry and Hamiel wide open behind the arc, with plenty of time to square up. Hamiel sank four consecutive threes, and Malbry followed up with one of her own the next time down the floor. 

When they weren’t knocking down threes, Malbry and Hamiel were pounding the ball to the basket, sinking layups and drawing fouls.

By the end of the third quarter, the Chargers had taken the lead, and had apparently sapped all of the Hurricanes’ confidence along the way.

Scared of Charger pressure, the Hurricanes panicked. Nobody wanted the ball, and they passed it around like a hot potato, frequently throwing the ball away—or, worse, into Charger hands—in their desperation to get rid of it.

And with no one to stop them, Malbry and Hamiel, who combined for 48 points in the second half alone, dominated the game.

“We knew exactly what to do,” coach Fountain said after the game. “We knew everything we needed to know to stop them, and we didn’t do it. We just didn’t do it.”

Weldon will move on to the regional qualifying match in Greenville next week, and the Lady Hurricanes, minus their seniors, will look ahead to next season.  

“This is not the end of the world,” Fountain assured his girls. “I can promise you that.”

Fountain told his team that next year’s preparations would include open gyms, summer workouts, and, perhaps most importantly, team camp, so that next year, the Canes could see playoff-level competition before it was too late. 


February 27,  2009

UPDATE…Lady Hurricanes put on a show,
advance to third round of playoffs


Last night, Feb. 26, in their second round of the NCHSAA state playoffs, the Cape Hatteras Lady Hurricanes put on a show, delivering a near flawless performance and leveling their competition, the South Roberson Lady Mustangs, 80-25.

From the moment they stepped on the court last night, it was clear that the Hurricanes had come to play. Calm, focused, and resolute, they quickly took control of the game and never let go.

South Roberson didn’t stand a chance against the Canes’ fortress-like defense. They struggled to break the Hurricane press, and they didn’t fare much better once they got to half-court.

Swinging the ball around outside the three-point line, the Mustangs attempted to draw the Canes out to the perimeter so they could capitalize on their speed and penetrate, but the Canes didn’t take the bait.
They waited patiently, in their tightly packed zone, for the Mustangs to come to them. And the Mustangs, unable to spread the Hurricane defense out, were left with very few offensive options. 

When they tried to drive, the Canes shut them out. When they tried to pass, the Canes knocked it away. And when they forced outside shots, the Canes, who dominated the boards, jerking down an impressive 35 defensive rebounds for the game, made sure they didn’t get a second look.

It took the Mustangs two time-outs and almost seven minutes of play, to finally sink their first basket—the only basket the Hurricanes allowed in the first quarter.

The Canes showed the same level-headed play and solid execution on the offensive end.

When the Mustangs’ speed shut down their transition game, the Canes didn’t freak out, didn’t turn the ball over, and didn’t force bad shots.

They pulled back, set up, and ran their offense, relying on consistent outside shooting, dribble penetration and strong passes, and aggressive rebounding, which, more often than not, resulted in successful second and third looks. 

Junior Lauren Randall, who led the team in scoring with 18 points, was on fire the whole game, sinking shot after shot after shot, while senior Caitlyn Gray, who really gave a stellar performance, owned the boards, leading the team with 13 rebounds, which she frequently followed with a bucket.

Randall and Gray each earned a double-double last night, Randall with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Gray with 16 points and 13 rebounds. 

Freshman Maggie Easley proved to be a force under the basket, going up strong against Mustang defenders, and almost always coming out on top. She ended up with 15 points, and probably couldn’t have missed a lay-up in the second half if she tried.

Junior guard Paxton Gwin, a perennial playmaker for the Canes, demonstrated uncanny offensive precision. She could have passed the ball through the eye of a needle, and she seemed to always find the open man. She led the team with an impressive seven assists.    

The Canes’ only uncertain moment came late in the second quarter, when senior point guard, Kristian Head, tangled with an especially aggressive Mustang player, hit the floor, and didn’t get back up.

No foul was called, and after what seemed like an eternity, the visibly upset and injured Head was practically carried back to the bench.

But the Canes bounced back, and any fears that the Canes had lost their momentum were quickly assuaged when Head’s replacement, sophomore guard Jessea Midgett, immediately drew a foul and sank both free throws.  She went on to score 14 points.

It was clear that nothing was going to get the best of the Hurricanes last night, not injury, not poor officiating (honestly, it was spotty at best), and certainly not the Mustangs, who were becoming increasingly frustrated by the Hurricanes’ exponential lead. 

Their frustration was no doubt exacerbated by the Hurricanes’ sixth man—bleachers full of excited fans that never missed an opportunity to demoralize the Mustangs, or the officials, for that matter.

In the end, there was nothing the Mustangs could do.  They had been outhustled, outsmarted, and, put simply, outplayed by the Hurricanes.

“That was the best I’ve ever seen them play,” Head Coach Earl Fountain said after the game. “They did everything they were supposed to do, and they played as a team.”

The Lady Canes will play again tonight, at 7 p.m. in the CHSS main gym, in the third round of playoffs.  They will face the team from Weldon, and if they play like they did last night, they will continue moving ahead in the playoffs.

February 25,  2009

UPDATE….Lady Canes top Bruins,
prepare for tough second-round game


The Cape Hatteras Lady Hurricanes captured their first 2009 playoff win last night, Feb. 24, when they topped the Camden County Bruins 56-32 in the opening round of NCHSAA state tournament play.

The game will go down in the books as a decisive victory for the Lady Canes, but the 24-point margin belies the flow of the game.  The Lady Canes came out on top, but the Bruins definitely made them work for it.

The trouble started toward the end of the second quarter.  

A respectable first quarter netted the Canes an early lead, and when they took the floor for the second quarter, they were in a hurry to win. They forced outside shots, made weak passes, committed needless fouls, and failed to get in position to hit the
boards—they looked like they were falling apart. 

“Lackadaisical,” Coach Earl Fountain said after the game, of his team’s second-quarter performance. “They were just forcing things, trying to do too much at once.”

The Bruins, on the other hand, were seizing their opportunity, and after scoring seven unanswered points in the final minutes of the second, the Lady Bruins had cut the Canes’ lead to just three points by the half. 

Fountain shared a few observations with his team during the break, and he made it clear after the game that he hadn’t exactly used his inside voice. 

If their feelings were hurt, the Lady Canes definitely didn’t show it.

They came out in the third and gradually put themselves back together, playing the smart, aggressive, and fast-paced brand of basketball that they’re known for, and after Paxton Gwin drained a top-of-the-key three and Caitlyn Gray sank both of her one-and-one attempts in the final seconds of the third, the Canes ended the quarter with a respectable 15 point lead.

The Canes owned the fourth quarter, making solid passes—an area that had troubled them throughout the game -- dominating the paint, and playing their characteristically unyielding defense, which allowed the Canes to finally work their notorious transition game.

The Lady Canes will attempt to continue their roll toward the state title on Thursday night, Feb. 26, when they take on South Roberson at 6 p.m., in what should prove to be a very exciting game between two pretty evenly matched teams.

“They’re small and quick, just like us,” Fountain said of the South Roberson girls, adding “They’re an athletic team that likes to press and run the ball up and down the floor.”

Fountain believes his girls can win, but he knows it isn’t going to be easy. 

February 21,  2009

Lady Hurricanes win conference title, will host playoffs


Last Friday night, Feb. 20, after cruising to an 85-23 victory over Columbia in their first round tournament play earlier that week, the Cape Hatteras Lady Hurricanes, already the regular season champions and still undefeated in conference play, prepared to battle the Jamesville Lady Bullets in the final match of the Tideland Athletic Conference tournament.

After a rocky start, the Lady Hurricanes, who had met and defeated Jamesville twice during regular season play, pulled it together, handing the Bullets an impressive 59-15 defeat, and finishing their already successful 2009 season with a record-breaking third consecutive tournament champion title.  

Early in the game, the Lady Canes, who usually run an unstoppable transition game, seemed a little frazzled by Jamesville’s defense. They missed several lay-ups and even had trouble getting second and third shot opportunities to fall.

Not liking what he was seeing, head coach Earl Fountain called a time-out early in the first quarter to set the girls straight.  And it worked.

A three from senior Caitlyn Gray, followed by a long baseline jumper by Paxton Gwin, put some much-needed life back into the Lady Canes, who jumped out to a 10-point lead and never looked back. 

The Canes’ outside shooting remained strong throughout the game, and solid offensive rebounding continued to produce multiple shot opportunities.

On the defensive end, the Canes started off running a full-court zone press, something they rarely get the chance to do.

The defense worked well, forcing a lot of Jamesville turnovers and producing a lot of scoring opportunities for the Hurricanes, but Fountain abandoned the press about halfway through the second quarter in light of the Canes’ burgeoning lead.

Hatteras allowed only one Jamesville bucket in the second quarter, holding them to a scant six points for the half, and when the buzzer sounded, the Canes headed for the locker room, a commanding 30 points ahead.

The lead proved insurmountable for the Bullets, who were only able to score nine second half points to the Canes’ 23.

After the game, Cape Hatteras Secondary Schools of Coastal Studies principal Dr. Lou Tonelson presented the teams their respective trophies, and the Lady Hurricanes, for the third consecutive year, took home the big one.

But, the girls won’t be resting on their laurels.

Post-season play starts Tuesday night, Feb. 24, at 7 P p.m. with the top-seeded Hurricanes taking on Camden in the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association State Playoffs.

Last year, the girls made it to the elite-8 round of play in Greenville, N.C., before a disappointing loss to the East Bladen Eagles in the regional qualifying game, and they’ve made it clear that they plan to go even further this year. 

As the top seed, CHSS will host the first three rounds of the playoffs, which will be held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights at 7 p.m., in the CHSS main gym.

2009 Lady Hurricanes (Varsity)

 #1    Paxton Gwin (Junior)
 #4    Kristian Head (Senior)
 #5    Lauren Randall (Junior)
#11   Brianne Rosell (Senior)
#12   Jessea Midgett (Sophomore)
#13   Maggie Easley (Freshman)
#14   Tori Ballance (Junior)
#23   Caitlyn Gray (Senior)
#24   Molly Clever (Sophomore)


 Comments are always welcomed!

     Subject :

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.