By Cam Huffman
After cutting a second-half Greenbrier East lead in half with a 10-0 run, Rockbridge County (Va.) was thinking about an upset of the defending Class AAA state champion Greenbrier East girls’ basketball squad, but Bianca André, a key memorable of that magical run a year ago, wasn’t going to let it happen.
Out of a Spartan timeout with 6:30 to play in the game, with the home team ahead by 10 André got the ball, drove past a helpless Wildcat defender and drew contact on her way to the rim for an easy layup. On the next possession, the 2012 first team all-state pick went coast-to-coast off of a rebound, and she finished off another fastbreak with an easy layup off an assist from point guard Chloe Honaker the next time down the court.
The 7-0 André run erased any hopes of a comeback for the visitors, who trailed by as many as 22 points, and the Spartans (2-0) held on for a 69-56 victory.
“He just told us to get our act together and start playing like we knew how,” said André, a senior forward who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, of head coach Jim Justice’s advice during the timeout. “I just tried to keep pushing.
“I don’t really feel pressure, but I knew I had to step up and be the leader I know I am.”
On a night where East unveiled a banner honoring the state championship it won last March — the banner now hangs beside the one commemorating the school’s only other girls’ basketball title in 1981 — the Spartans, at times, looked like a team that could again make an impact on a state level.
In transition, East was tough to stop as Honaker ran the break to perfection, often ending it with an easy layup by Elizabeth Romeo or a kick-out 3-pointer to Chaunté McDowell. Romeo finished with 15 points, while McDowell had 16 points and four assists.
Defensively, the home team created turnovers and made Rockbridge (2-3) find its points with difficult perimeter shots. East forced 20 turnovers on 14 steals, getting the game in the tempo it likes to run.
At other times, though, the Spartans looked like a squad missing two of the top stars from that championship squad and trying to find a way to make up for the size it lost from that team.
East struggled in its halfcourt offense most of the night, and when its passing did lead to open looks in the paint, it often failed to finish.
The Spartans shot just 34 percent from the field and finished 5 of 23 from 3-point range. It also allowed the visitors way too many shots on the other end of the floor.
“Devensively, we’ve still got some issues as far as the execution of our stuff,” said Justice. “(On offense) we just haven’t got in a rhythm yet. When you run as much stuff as we run, and you’re not good, then it looks bad. When we get good at it, it’s going to make us better. We’re just not there yet.”
East made up for its shooting woes on the glass, where it outrebounded the Wildcats 45-34, including 23 offensive boards. On the opening possession of the game, the Spartans missed three consecutive shots but got all three back and ended the trip down the floor with a Honaker 3-pointer that served as a prelude of what was to come.
The Spartans certainly got more of a test than they did the first night out in a blowout win over Shady Spring.
Rockbridge played an aggressive style of basketball and had some players who could score from any spot on the court. Guard Keely Fresh was perhaps the most impressive, and she finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds on the strength of four 3-pointers.
Center Chelsea Padgett finished with 13 points and eight boards and forward Lauren Rowsey had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“That’s a good basketball team,” said Justice. “They could have given us a fit if we hadn’t had such a strong first half.”
Because of that talent, perhaps, Rockbridge came out with some confidence and went to work trying to press on defense and push the tempo offensively. But it quickly found out that wasn’t a smart move.
The Spartans had little trouble with the Wildcats’ fullcourt pressure and found some easy transition buckets, as well as a couple kickout 3-pointers.
The back-and-forth early action quickly transformed into a 21-11 East lead, and with the Spartans on pace for 100 after the opening quarter, ahead 26-14, Rockbridge decided to slow it down.
“We played a really nice first quarter,” said Justice. “Offensively, we did a lot of things well.”
The Wildcats abandoned the press, waiting instead to pick up their defense in the quarter-court, and turned to a halfcourt offense to get the ball in the hands of its shooter, Fresh.
East, which drew a flurry of first-half whistles on the offensive end, didn’t object much to the change of tempo, happy just to get to the half with a lead without too many players in foul trouble.
The strategy didn’t allow the visitors to cut into the Spartan lead, but it did keep that advantage from growing, and at the half East led 37-25.
A 13-4 run midway through the third quarter put East ahead 53-33, and Rockbridge’s final surge was turned away by André’s individual effort.
“We still have something to prove,” she said. “We’re not the same team as last year, but one state championship’s not enough.”
East will be back home tonight against Lincoln. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHufmanRH
Greenbrier East 69, Rockbridge 56
Lauren Rowsey 3 3-7 10, Hannah Crouse 0 2-2 2, Chelsea Padgett 5 3-6 13, Keely Fresh 8 6-6 26, Morgan Bond 1 0-0 2, Mackenzie Nicely 0 0-0 0, Shaela Coffey 0 0-0 0, Taylor Allen 0 1-2 1, Brooke Merchant 0 0-0 0, Jessica Wheeler 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 15-25 56.
Greenbrier East (2-0)
Elizabeth Romeo 6 1-3 15 Bianca André 6 8-8 20, Maddee Carroll 4 1-1 9, Chloe Honaker 1 0-3 3, Chaunté McDowell 5 4-7 16, Kristen Talbott 1 0-0 2, Victoria Krystynak 0 0-0 0, Kat Walton 0 0-0 0, Lexi Tencher 0 1-2 1, Caitland Boggs 0 0-0 0, CeCe Grant 0 1-2 1, Kaitlyn Mize 0 2-2 2. Totals 23 18-28 69.
R 14 11 14 17 — 56
GE 26 11 18 14 — 69
3-point goals — R: 5 (Fresh 4, Rowsey); GE: 5 (McDowell 2, Romeo 2, Honaker). Fouled out — none.