“New Nitro” may not quite be fully back to its old ways, but there were certainly some things on Thursday that looked like the vintage girls basketball team.
Two-time junior All-State guard Baylee Goins came up with her latest stat-stuffing performance — 23 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and four blocks — as Nitro used an opening 11-1 spurt and wasn’t seriously threatened in a 58-44 home conquest of upstart Herbert Hoover.
The Huskies (4-2) have had a nice opening to the season behind senior guard Allison Dunbar and though she led all scorers with 24 points, she had to work, going 8 for 24 from the field and facing constant ball pressure from a fresh body as the Wildcats sold out to limit Hoover’s main weapon.
“Hats off to Allison Dunbar, because she’s an outstanding player,” Nitro coach Pat Jones said. “We’ve been working on man-to-man defense and finding the number one player in every game. Our goal was to hold her under 20 and to get 24 out of her, I’m happy with that especially on 8-of-24 shooting.”
Danielle Ward started the game matched up on Dunbar but had plenty of help as Haley Carroll, Sonia Barnes and Goins all had turns trying to make life tough for Hoover’s dynamic scorer.
To Dunbar’s credit, she battled through, also finishing with nine rebounds and five steals, but the Huskies largely struggled from the field and in supporting Dunbar with points, especially during the Wildcats’ initial run. Hoover shot just 2 of 12 in the first quarter as Nitro led 18-6 after the first period and 38-22 at halftime.
Second-leading scorer Taylor Ray, who entered the game averaging double figures, was held to two points and she and fellow starter Courtney Dunbar combined to shoot 2 of 17 from the field.
Despite grinding on both ends to stay within shouting distance, Hoover couldn’t make enough shots late to make up for the ones it didn’t make early.
“A little bit of a slow start,” Hoover coach John Vencill said. “We had looks, we had opportunities and they weren’t falling. But we’re getting better. This is by far the best start we’ve had out here for a while and Baylee Goins is a great player.”
Goins got it started early, scoring 17 of her points in the first half and was flirting with quadruple-double territory going into the locker room with 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals already to her credit.
The Wildcats bogged down a bit offensively in the second half while trying to protect their double-digit lead, but maybe more importantly, the team’s energy level didn’t. It was a stark contrast from the team’s 58-50 loss to St. Albans on Saturday at the FCA Hoops Classic in Montgomery.
Jones vowed that his team would be in better shape moving forward and on Thursday at least, it sure seemed that way.
“If you asked them [practice] has been torture, but for me it’s been pretty good,” Jones said. “It was my fault. We weren’t in the shape we needed to be in and I take full responsibility. Tuesday and Wednesday we ran a lot, but that’s what we’ve got to do.”
“We’ve been running a lot and conditioned ourself better and got prepared for this game,” Goins added. “We just had to contain [Dunbar], she’s going to get her points regardless, so we had to make sure she didn’t get a lot. Offensively, we had to get things moving, find open people and make open shots.”
Carroll helped with that as well, knocking down five triples on her way to 15 points with Olivia Collier (eight points, eight rebounds) and Emily Lancaster (six points) making significant contributions as well.
Caroline Woody added nine points and six boards for Hoover.
The Wildcats entered the preseason Class AA poll at No. 5, returning their starting unit from a year ago. The team will have an opportunity to measure just how far it has come in a week (next Friday night) as it travels to Fairlea for the Greenbrier East Christmas Tournament. Nitro will match up with the Class AAA No. 2 Spartans first, with East (4-0) entering having won its first four games by an average of 48 1/2 points per game.
“I’m very happy with what I saw tonight, but it’s Greenbrier East and it’s a different atmosphere up there,” Jones said. “We’ve got to come with this same intensity and execute like we did tonight and I think we’ll be OK.”