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STANHOPE — In five seasons, Jordan Bass has seen the peaks and valleys as it relates to his Southern Nash High varsity girls basketball team.
Many, many valleys in fact. Few peaks.
But Friday’s home game against reigning 3-A Big East Conference champion Hunt ended with the Ladybirds ascending to the highest point they have reached in the Bass administration.
Behind 21 points from diminutive 5-foot freshman point guard Jermia Walker, Southern Nash took advantage of major foul trouble to the Hunt senior duo of Bria Griffith and Imani Sutton to grab a lead before holding off a spirited charge from the Lady Warriors in the fourth quarter to snatch a 58-50 victory.
It’s the first time the Ladybirds have defeated Hunt since Feb. 4, 2010, in the Big East tournament, improving to 6-6 overall and 2-1 in conference play. Hunt, despite 22 second-half points from Griffith, dropped to 8-6 in all games, 1-2 in league play.
“No question about it,” Bass said when asked if this was his best win at the helm of the program. “I told the girls after the game that was the biggest win in our program in a long time, even before I took over. Going into the season, I would have picked Hunt to win the conference, and they still might. They’ve got a great team. We were fortunate. They had some girls get in foul trouble, which helped, but in the second half, the same thing happened to us. We had some girls foul out, so it kind of worked both ways.”
Sutton gave the Ladybirds fits early, netting her team’s first seven points and 10 of Hunt’s first 11. But by the end of the first quarter, both Griffith and Sutton were saddled with two fouls, and Griffith picked up her third with 6:30 left before halftime.
It got much worse for the Lady Warriors.
Leading 11-9, Southern Nash junior guard Brooke Lucas was fouled in the act of shooting by Hunt senior Dylia Lucas. But the officials assigned the foul to Sutton, and after Hunt head coach Tiffany Parks requested a second opinion, the conference of officials returned with the same verdict — Sutton would keep hold of her third personal foul.
That set off an unhappy reaction on the floor, with twin technicals assessed to Sutton (her fourth personal) and junior Jayden Sauls. Lucas stepped to the line and made half of the resulting six foul shots, giving Southern Nash the lead.
The Ladybirds would never trail again, and Sutton didn’t return until 6:23 remained.
“It was definitely a different game than we’re used to playing,” Parks said. “There were some things that were just really shocking to us. I’m still stunned by the way the game was controlled.”
In the aftermath, Walker’s speed started to give Hunt’s defense issues. She got to the rim for three layups in the second quarter, accounting for seven of Southern’s final eight points of the half. The Ladybirds carried a 22-17 lead into halftime.
Griffith started to strike quickly in the second half, hitting three straight 3-pointers to bring Hunt within a single possession at 29-26. However, Walker replied with a pair of layups, and a contorting jumper by senior Rayna Bailey while being fouled sent Southern Nash into the fourth with a 38-33 edge.
Prior to that, Griffith was assessed her fourth personal with 1:44 left in the third.
Early in the fourth quarter, Bailey was knocked out of the game on a foul by Hunt freshman Kayla Haley. She later re-emerged with wrap over her left knee, but junior Kenya Hargrove was summoned off the bench in her stead to make both free throws.
While Sutton soon returned, Walker boosted the Ladybirds to a 45-35 lead with a layup while being fouled.
From 49-40, Hunt made its run, getting a Sutton layup and a three-point play by Griffith.
Yet several attempts from the Lady Warriors to tie — including 3-pointers by Sutton and sophomore Madison Mercer — fell off the mark.
Griffith got a putback to fall to make it 51-49 Southern Nash, and Sutton had one final chance to give Hunt the lead with under 90 seconds to go, only to see the 3-point effort fall off the mark. She would quickly foul Walker on the other end for her fifth personal. Griffith followed with her fifth in the final minute.
Walker was 6 of 8 from the foul line for the Ladybirds in the fourth quarter and was 7 for 9 overall. Southern Nash survived despite missing 21 foul shots.
“The girls that have been here in the past as far as our point guard goes, I love them to death and they played their hearts out, but Jermia is just, she’s special,” Bass said. “The moment she stepped on the court for us, she changed our team. We trust her to bring the ball up, and it just changes your whole offense. A player like that just changes everyone else’s mentality.”
Southern Nash closed it out from the line with a 7-1 run.
“We are improving so much every year,” Walker said. “We’re taking greater steps. Never going backwards, always forward. After a loss, we have to double it up. We have to let the dog out of us.”
Indeed, that dog bit the defending Big East champions in a stunning outcome.
Griffith 22, Smith 3, Mercer 4, Haley 5, Tucker, Sauls, McNair, Sutton 12, Lucas 4.
SOUTHERN NASH (58)
Whitley 3, Smith 1, Walker 21, Hargrove 2, Foster, Lucas 15, Gaure 2, Bailey 10, Williams 4.
Score by quarters:
Hunt 8 9 16 17 — 50
Southern Nash 9 13 16 20 — 58