By Rob Witham
The first month of the girls basketball season has been challenging for the very young Lee-Davis Confederates. With just two seniors on the roster, head coach Alvin Puller and his staff have been busy using the December part of their schedule building chemistry, and experience.
A 2-1 start was followed by a five-game losing streak where Lee-Davis struggled mostly on the offensive end. That came to an end last Thursday when they snapped the skid with an impressive 53-40 win over West Point in the semifinal of The Southerner Holiday Classic in Mechanicsville as Codie Heilig scored 20 points while Emma Sweeney added nine, setting up a championship match against Pasquotank High School from Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
The offensive struggles reared their ugly head in the first half Friday, as the Panthers jumped out to a 22-9 advantage, but the Confederates found the spark in the second half, in their blue-dollar way cutting into the Panther lead until it was just one possession at 31-28 with 5:01 to go.
“We went to man-to-man defense in the second half, and for us, a lot of times, how you have to be more aggressive playing man is better for us,” explained Lee-Davis assistant coach Crystal Byars. “We then can turn that momentum into offense, so I think it was man-to-man defense that sparked us.”
After Pasquotank upped the lead to five, the Confederates went on a 5-0 run, with a Madison Williams basket tying the game at 33-33 with just 2:30 to go. But the Panthers turned up their defensive intensity, denying Lee-Davis on the offense end. Pasquotank hit two free throws in the final minute for a 37-34 lead, then finished the job by stopping the Confederates on a final offensive drive to escape with the win and the tournament trophy.
Williams may have only scored two points in the game, but her defensive prowess throughout the Southerner Classic helped place her on the All-Tournament Team along with Heilig, who finished the title game with 13 points. Sierra Talley hit a pair of three-pointers for her six points, while Hadiyah Nelson added five.
The Confederates entered 2017 at 3-7, but with renewed confidence. Three freshmen saw action in the tournament, Heilig, Williams, and Sweeney are only sophomores. The rotation is so much deeper this season, and Byars is very confident that, despite the loss to the Panthers, Lee-Davis’ best days are yet to come.
“We don’t look in the rearview mirror, we just look out the windshield,” Byars noted. “We have a lot of games left, and I believe we have a lot of wins left, too.”
Lee-Davis next faces another rival who has struggled for victories this season when they travel to Ashland to face Patrick Henry Friday at 6 p.m. After a trip to Henrico Tuesday night, the Confederates will kick off a critical four-game homestand Wednesday against Conference 11 rival Mills Godwin.
Meanwhile, the Lee-Davis boys bounced back from a first round defeat to eventual tournament champion Colonial Heights to find itself in the fourth quarter to stun Pasquotank in the consolation game 50-47. Down 35-29 after three quarters, the Confederates used the three ball to launch a stunning comeback.
Jahmarey Smith began the rush with a three-pointer to draw Lee-Davis within two at 36-34 with 5:41 left. Over the next 40 seconds, Elijah Jones would drain back-to-back treys, forcing a Panther timeout as momentum shifted to Lee-Davis as they stormed to a 40-36 lead, outscoring Pasquotank 11-1 in the first three minutes of the last stanza.
Lee-Davis wasn’t done, as another Smith triple, then a Devin Christian And One in the lane made it 48-39 with 2:10 left. But the Panthers had a final push, with a 6-0 run in the next 48 seconds to make it 48-45 with just 1:22 remaining. After the Panthers cut the lead to one with 30 seconds left, Christian was fouled and calmly sank two free throws to help the Confederates hold on for the 50-47 victory, as a Pasquotank three-point shot try at the buzzer was no good.
The Confederates entered 2017 with a 3-6 record, and look to upend rival Patrick Henry on the road at 7:30 Friday after the girls varsity game, then must travel to seventh-ranked Henrico on Tuesday.
In the Southerner Classic boys championship game, Brandon Smith of Colonial Heights scored and was fouled with 2.1 seconds remaining, hitting a free throw as the Colonials successfully defended their 2015 championship with a thrilling 67-64 win over Caroline. Smith finished with 15 points, while fellow All-Tournament Team member Deion Stover had 18 points before spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter.
David Ware of Caroline also made the All-Tournament squad leading all scorers with 32 points for the Cavaliers.