WINFIELD — Thursday marked the girls basketball coaching debut of Shayna Gore at St. Albans and the first showing of her up-tempo, pressuring defensive style for the Red Dragons.
Winfield has long utilized a high-tempo philosophy on both sides of the court.
And when push came to shove, the Generals and their comfort level in that style proved to be the difference.
Winfield shook off a sluggish first half and took over in the second, forcing 18 turnovers after halftime and 31 for the game as the Generals reversed a six-point deficit at the break to run away with a 53-42 victory.
Senior point guard Z.Z. Russell scored 13 of her game-high 15 points in the second half as she continues to try to get back into game shape after a heel injury plagued her in the offseason.
Buoyed by five seniors with a state-tournament appearance to their credit three seasons ago, the Generals flashed some much-needed grit in Thursday’s second half, registering a comeback victory that the team may not have had the toughness to earn as recently as a season ago.
“We all realize that it’s our last time playing each other and we cannot give up just because we’re not up at halftime,” Russell said. “We’re going to have to fight.”
“This was the first time we didn’t crumble,” Winfield coach Kelsey Spang added. “They knew they had to take it into their hands, no one else is going to do it for them.
“We challenged them. We said, ‘There’s five of you seniors on this team, someone has to rise up.’ As seniors go, they all stepped up. I think that’s what’s going to make our team set apart from others.”
In digging itself a hole early, Winfield turned the ball over 14 times in the first half but cut that number to four in the second as its own press continued to create havoc for the Red Dragons.
Leading 24-18 at the break, St. Albans went back and forth with Winfield in the early part of the third quarter until a closing 14-2 run by the Generals gave Winfield its first lead at the 3:38 mark and a four-point advantage heading to the fourth quarter. Another run, this one of the 10-4 variety early in the fourth, gave Winfield (2-0) some breathing room.
Despite shooting just 10 for 23 from the foul line, Winfield was able to pull away behind a balanced effort in scoring and on the glass. Emily Hudson added 11 points to go with five rebounds, three assists and four steals. Lauren Hudson had a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards. Kierstyn Doss added 10 more tallies and Mara McGrew finished with seven points and nine rebounds. Russell contributed a game-high seven steals.
“We just relaxed,” Spang said. “They were being spastic and when they’re not looking around the court and at the open men and not getting into their positions — defense runs offense and we were getting beat to the ball and that’s not our way.”
For a while, things were going St. Albans’ way as the Red Dragons grabbed the lead early, pushed it to as many as 11 points and had the Generals on their heels throughout the first half.
Showing depth and a new commitment to pushing the basketball, the Red Dragons were able to hit some open looks and manufacture points in transition, all of which came from the system Gore is trying to install.
But the second half was a different story and Gore said she expects some early inconsistencies as her style slowly becomes the norm.
“I told them, ‘You’ve got a second half, don’t think they’re going to lay down, they’re coming right at you,’ ” Gore said. “I expect that, because I’m new to them and they’re new to me and we’re trying to get used to each other. When they want to go and they execute, they’re pretty good — they’re pretty dangerous. We had two really good scrimmages and you saw it in the first half. If we put another half together like that, we’d have been up at the end on the scoreboard.”
Emma Parsons finished with 11 points to lead St. Albans (0-1).