By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- Free throws, when made consistently, can be a beautiful thing. Just ask Stonewall Jackson coach Jeff Burner, whose Generals converted 10 free throws in the second quarter, trimming a 10-point deficit down to four in a matter of minutes.
But a full-court press, when executed flawlessly, can be deadly. Just ask Clarke County coach Tim Lawrence, whose Eagles pressed from tip-off to the final buzzer, and forced 28 Generals turnovers in a 59-39 win.
"That's been our foundation for several years, and it's still a work in progress," Lawrence said of the Eagles' defense. "We have kids stepping into the varsity level for the first time, but I'm very pleased with how they did tonight, and I thought our hustle was very good, and we're only gonna get better."
Granted, Stonewall Jackson is a young team: Heather Stout is the Generals' lone senior. The rest of Stonewall Jackson's starters, Ashlie Clar, Michaela Koontz, Cassie Conley and Keyana Phelps, are either freshmen or sophomores.
Rarely, then, has this Stonewall team had to face a full-court press for 32 minutes against a team loaded with juniors and seniors.
The effects of Clarke's defense were felt immediately, and ripped Stonewall Jackson's transition game to pieces. The Generals had 11 turnovers in the first quarter, and Clarke's first two field goals in the second quarter, scored by junior Kasey Canterbury, came off consecutive steals. Indeed, Koontz, when bringing the ball downcourt, was often swarmed by two, three, or even four Eagles.
Like bees to honey.
"I'm glad we won," said Canterbury, who scored a game-high 13 points. "A lot of people stepped up -- it's a good opener for the season."
And after a sluggish first quarter which saw only three Clarke County field goals, Lawrence's offense, too, seemed executed to perfection. Picks were clean, open shooters were found, and intelligent shots were taken. The Eagles strung together a 19-point second quarter and a 15-point third quarter to take a 43-27 lead going into the final frame.
Much of the Eagles' recuperated offense, according to Lawrence, was the result of their cutting down on fouls. Clarke County fouled Stonewall Jackson nine times in the second quarter -- after committing seven in the first -- sending the Generals to the free throw line 14 times. Koontz and Conley each sank five freebies, and helped cut the Eagles' lead to 20-24. Seniors Jessica Dinkins and Amy Hagerdon both fell into foul trouble early, and both later fouled out of the game.
Once the Eagles stopped fouling, their offense started rolling. Canterbury scored six in the third quarter, and Brittany Teasley added another six in the fourth. Clarke County saw points from 11 different players, and just as importantly, played four full quarters of basketball, a problem Andrea Gaither said plagued the Eagles last season.
"It sucks when you play your heart out the whole first half and you come back out and the other team beats you, not because they're better than you, but because they want it more than you," Gaither said. "You just have to win it, you have to want it, you have to have heart to win."
For Burner and the Generals, a loss such as this shouldn't create worry or tension in Quicksburg. After seeing what he called his most experienced team ever win the Shenandoah district regular season last year, Burner admitted this is the least experienced team he's ever coached. Growing pains are to be expected.
"That's the thing about this group: I think they're gonna battle and they're gonna play hard," Burner said, "it's just a matter of experience and some different things we gotta get used to and we gotta get better at.
"We'll keep doing it, and you gotta give credit to Clarke, they got the game into their tempo."