Coming off a winless season two years ago, Capital girl’s basketball coach Michael Cunningham took a long-term, grand-scheme look ahead in an effort to rebuild the program brick by brick.
Six wins last year was a good start and in the team’s season opener on Monday, Capital had to learn another lesson in that process — how to play with a lead.
The host Cougars passed that test — albeit by the skin of their teeth — scoring seven of the game’s final nine points to hold off Hurricane 50-43
Capital stormed out of the gate, forcing nine first-half turnovers and leading by as many as 15 (21-6) early in the second period. But Hurricane, playing without freshman point guard Maggie Odour, kept chipping away and narrowed the gap to two points on a couple of occasions inside the final 2:25 of the game.
But buckets from Talayah Boxley, Skylar Bishop and Stephanie Hudnall down the stretch squelched Hurricane’s momentum and finally got the Cougars over the hump.
“I’m just proud of the girls, we put in work,” Cunningham said. “I pushed our first game back that extra week just to continue practicing and like last year, building on this foundation we’re starting up here. We’re trying to go forward.”
What the game lacked in beauty, it made up for in late drama and despite some rocky shooting and turnover numbers for both teams, Cunningham saw his group respond in the face of adversity where the Cougars may have folded in years past.
“Little bit different tonight, we were playing with the lead,” Cunningham said. “Unfortunately, some of the girls have been playing from behind for so long and now playing with the lead, we’ve got to continue to build the lead.”
Both teams finished under 25 percent from the field (Hurricane went 15 for 64, Capital 18 for 64) and under 50 percent at the free-throw line (Hurricane at 6 for 19, Capital at 11 for 23) with the Redskins turning the ball over 23 times and Capital 22. The contest quickly became a war of attrition with 23 jump balls called in the game as players scrapped for loose balls both off the glass and as a result of full-court presses implemented by both squads.
Hurricane (1-3) couldn’t buy a basket in the first half, going 5 for 34 from the field and 3 for 12 from the line as the Cougars entered the break with a 25-14 advantage.
Eventually, something had to give and that ended up being freshman guard Taylor Maddox giving the Redskins a chance as she stroked 5 of her 6 3-pointers after the break in finishing with a game-high 22 points. Three of those triples came in the fourth quarter and during an 11-1 run that cut a 39-27 disadvantage down to 40-38.
The Redskins got a stop and senior center Nadia Legros went to the free-throw line with a one-and-one opportunity and a chance to tie the game. Her first attempt missed, however, leading to a Hudnall 3 on the other end with 1:59 to go. That shot was quickly answered with a 3 from Lauren Dye to cut the lead to two one more time, but Boxley’s basket with 1:23 sparked the final 7-2 spurt to put the game away.
“I just don’t think we were really ready to play,” Hurricane coach Shawn Lucas said. “We dug a hole, but we kept fighting back. We had a chance, we had our opportunities. We tried to press a little bit and they handled the press pretty good so we had to get out of that. We just can’t come out early in the game and dig such a big hole when you’re down one of your better players. No excuses. We’re trying to find a solid rotation and we haven’t quite done that yet.”
Legros was a third-team, All-Kanawha Valley selection a year ago, but like most of the Redskins, struggled from the field on Monday finishing with just four points to go with 15 rebounds and six steals.
Capital had three finish in double figures led by Nataliya Sayles’ 14 points. Hudnall scored 13 on an efficient 5 of 9 shooting and Boxley had 11 points to go with 12 rebounds.