By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- There's no explaining why a team so amped for a game, so enthralled to take a hack at owning the third-best record in the USA South, can come out so flat.
But the Shenandoah women, with no answer as to why or how, lacked a certain communication Thursday night against Ferrum. They lacked a certain rhythm. And now, the 71-58 loss to Ferrum behind them, the Hornets sit in fourth place, half a game behind Methodist and a full game behind Averett.
Maybe it was because, after being pent up in their dorms for the better part of this past week, with only a handful of short practices to speak of, the Hornets had a bit of dust to shake off.
Or maybe they were just too exhilarated at the chance to move up in the standings.
"I don't know if they got over-psyched; sometimes [we] get over-hyped and try to do too much from time to time," SU coach Michelle Guyant-Holloway said. "Sometimes you can get over-psyched for a game as well and maybe that was what had happened."
After keeping up with Ferrum, as far as stats and points, heart and hustle, for the opening two minutes, Shenandoah fell victim to an 11-2 Panther run. Guyant-Holloway pulled her five stumbling starters, replacing them all with bodies from her deep, talented bench.
It was a move Guyant-Holloway said she's used with success before.
"I think we just didn't come out with enough heart and desire," Shenandoah senior Katherine Flint said. "I think we wanted to be there, but our energy just wasn't good enough."
But while SU's bench provided the Hornets with a momentary spark -- they climbed to within 20-17 of the Panthers midway through the opening half -- Shenandoah's biggest problems of the night plagued them for all 40 minutes.
The Shenandoah guards couldn't feed the Shenandoah post, and the Ferrum guards were scoring off forced turnovers.
"We just didn't have the communication on defense," SU junior Stephanie Holton said. "When we did, we had good breaks and scoring, but then we didn't have it throughout so we couldn't keep the momentum going."
When all was said and done, Ferrum scored 21 points off turnovers, to Shenandoah's 12. The Hornets' starting post players, Nicole Gilbertson and 1,000-point scorer Alexis Hargbol, combined for only four points.
So the Hornets' guards shouldered the weight of the offense to the best of their abilities -- and they indeed had the ability.
Once Flint, the Hornets' offensive catalyst, finally began pushing the ball to her liking 13 minutes into the game, Shenandoah gained an inkling of the long-lost rhythm.
In addition to Flint's nine points, Holton scored 15, nine of which she tallied on three 3-pointers in the opening seven minutes of the second half. Sierra Edwards came off the bench to add another 15 points.
Though the points seemed to come more easily for the Hornets in the second half, the entry passes into the paint were as difficult as ever to make.
What's worse, the performance of the Ferrum guards began to heat up as the play from the post cooled down.
After Shenandoah crept to within two points of the Panthers with six minutes remaining, Ferrum's Ashley Norton and Tonya Wright combined for three consecutive 3-pointers. Though the score was hardly out of reach for the Hornets, their offensive woes returned to close out the game, as Flint scored Shenandoah's only field goal in the final 6:31.
Playing host to Averett on Saturday before capping the regular season with a two-game road trip, Shenandoah still has a chance to jump higher in the USA South standings.
"We're still trying to go out there and compete and play well, and our destiny's in our own hands," Guyant-Holloway said. "Sometimes people can rise to that occasion -- some people can't. Hopefully we have a quick turnaround to get ourselves ready because [Averett's] gonna come up and they're gonna be a lot tougher defensively."
Shenandoah 64, Ferrum 58
For the Shenandoah men, who haven't played since Feb. 2, everything seemed more intense in their 64-58 win over Ferrum on Thursday night.
Every Shenandoah block came with a thunderous smack; every Mitch Dudley basket came with a pumped fist; and every Kenny Robertson ballet routine through the paint came with a score and a boisterous yell.
And why not? It isn't often Robertson leads all scorers.
"I know I can do it," said Robertson, who scored 17 points. "But sometimes I feel like I'm so focused on getting my other teammates the ball that I really forget myself sometimes."
The win secures Shenandoah with the second spot in the USA South, at least for the time being. Averett, which comes to Winchester on Saturday, sits only half a game behind the Hornets.
Mitchell and Brandon Bryan each scored 13 for Shenandoah.
"I thought Ferrum did a great job of preparing for us, I thought we did a pretty good job of preparing for what they wanted to do," Shenandoah coach Rob Harris said. "And then when you have two teams that are that prepared, it comes down to then players have to make plays and it just happens we made a few more than Ferrum tonight."
After playing only 10 minutes, Kevin Kline suffered an ankle injury and left the game. Though Kline hobbled back into the gym on crutches, Harris said the Shenandoah senior is day-to-day with an ankle sprain and should be fine.