FUQUAY-VARINA — The future of Southwest Wake Athletic Conference girls basketball was on display Friday night as Green Hope blitzed Fuquay-Varina 56-34 in a game that featured two teams led by talented freshman.
With freshman Kelly Fitzgerald of Green Hope (5-8, 2-1) and Ava Bethea of Fuquay playing leading roles, one would expect streaky, inconsistent play. Fitzgerald, the Falcons’ starting point guard, had the better night, scoring 15 points and leading a swarming defense that led to 37 Bengal turnovers.
Bethea came off the bench to lead Fuquay (4-8, 0-3) with nine points, as the Bengals crumbled under Green Hope’s pressure.
Turning point: Fuquay led 9-8 after a sloppy first quarter, but Green Hope forced 11 turnovers and held the Bengals to one point in the second. The Falcons scored 13 of its 20 second-quarter points off turnovers, including Fitzgerald’s running 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
“The first quarter, we were a little lackadaisical, a little lazy, but the second quarter, we (outscored) them 20-1,” Falcons coach Mike Robinson said. “Our defense stepped up tonight. We started running like we’re supposed to run, playing great team defense. It was a very big win.”
Highlight reel: Fitzgerald did a little bit of everything in one sequence in the fourth quarter. She got an assist when she dished to Cici Adamson for a baseline jumper, then grabbed an offensive rebound for a putback basket and finally pushed the Falcons’ lead to 47-18 by draining a 3-pointer. Fitzgerald had her down moments Friday, mostly turning the ball over when teammates weren’t ready when she whipped crisp passes, but she didn’t look like a freshman Friday.
“Her basketball IQ is really good,” Robinson said. “It’s just a different level from what she was used to. She’s doing a great job and learning all the time. She sees the court well. Hopefully, she can continue to grow and get better. She lives in the gym anyway; she’s a gym rat. She loves it, I’m telling you. That’s a good thing to have; I like to have a point guard like that.”
Fitzgerald continues to learn, especially about leadership. That was one of her worries when she took over as point guard this season.
“I was feeling a little bit of pressure, as far as, ‘Are they going to listen to me? Are they going to listen to a freshman?’” Fitzgerald said. “It’s really turned out well, so it’s worked out. On the court, they listen to me, that’s for sure.”
Unsung hero: Sophomore Allie Winiecki pairs with Fitzgerald for a young, talented backcourt that could blossom into one of the area’s best. Winiecki scored seven points, was active in Green Hope’s pressure and served as point guard when Fitzgerald sat.
Putting up numbers: Green Hope used a variety of half-court and full-court presses and traps throughout the game, getting nine turnovers in the first quarter, 11 in the second, 11 in the third and six in the fourth. Why was the defense so good?
“Hustle, basically,” Fitzgerald said. “We hustle in practice and we hustle in games, and that’s how it translates into our defense.”
Needs improvement: Fuquay’s ball-handling. Numerous turnovers were unforced, frustrating first-year coach Gail Siemer.
“We’re going to watch some film tomorrow and hopefully learn a little bit from this,” Siemer said. “That has a lot to do with it. Their basketball IQ isn’t quite there. They don’t watch a lot of film – and never have, I don’t think, as a program. We’re trying to implement that so they can learn. Hopefully that will help.”
Best quote: The biggest problem for Fuquay? “Not taking care of the ball,” Siemer said. “We can’t score when we’re giving them the ball for easy baskets.”
Feeling the impact: If Green Hope’s pressure continues to harass teams and Fitzgerald continues her development as a leader and point guard, the Falcons could be a team to watch later this year in the SWAC.
“Everybody has an opportunity this year,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to come down to who wants it more. I think we really want it. We’ve got to keep practicing hard and getting better.”
Going forward: While Siemer needs Bethea to continue to develop, she also needs other players on her roster to improve, too.
“Ava continues to step up and be a leader, and that’s amazing,” Siemer said. “That’s our future, to be honest. We have a freshman who’s our leader, which speaks volumes for her, but we need other people to step up.”