Three extended periods defined Southeast Raleigh girls basketball team’s 54-42 win over Heritage in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs on Saturday.
Each phase demonstrated the Bulldogs’ biggest strength: Defense.
“Defense is really our staple,” said Southeast coach Nicole Meyers. “Through the first through third quarter, we didn’t really show that consistently, but in that fourth quarter we had some consecutive great plays on defense.”
Extended period No. 1: The entire first quarter.
No. 3 seed Southeast (27-3) held No. 11 seed Heritage (23-6) scoreless after the first period of the game. Perhaps the Huskies could blame part of that on youth – their three leading scorers in the game were freshmen – but really, the Bulldogs played exemplary defense. They used extended pressure to bother ball handlers and double-team traps when the opportunities arose.
Extended period No. 2: Four possessions in the mid-third quarter.
After that first period, Heritage fought its way back into the game and brought it to within five at halftime. But the Bulldogs turned up the defensive energy once again.
On the first two possessions, the Huskies turned it over, leading to four points. They committed an offensive foul on the third, which Southeast used for another field goal. Heritage traveled on the fourth possession, leading to one made free throw.
The final tally for Heritage in that minute-long stretch: Four turnovers in the backcourt and seven points given up. What was just a deficit of six points ballooned into 13.
“Sometimes we get into a state – I’m not going to say depression – but just out of it,” said Southeast’s Nevaeh Haddock. “When that (extended period) happened, it was nice to get the team back together.”
Extended period No. 3: The entire fourth quarter.
In similar fashion to the beginning of the game, Southeast allowed just six points and Heritage couldn’t hit anything. Though the fourth quarter began tied, the Bulldogs pulled away for the 12-point victory.
Meyers said the key to the final quarter’s execution was simple: “They listened,” she said.
The inconsistency Meyers alluded to allowed the Huskies back in the game between those extended periods of great defense. During those lapses, Heritage’s freshmen played like seniors. Alcenia Purnell jumpstarted the team with hard drives to the basket and 13 points. Cydney Johnson refused to let a frustrating first quarter hold her back, and she finished with 11. And Alana Brown hit two huge 3s to bring the Heritage contingent to its feet.
“The fight in our girls to come back, I’m very proud of them,” said Heritage coach Pat Kennedy.
Heritage wasn’t the only squad with freshmen stepping up. Haddock led her team with 13 points and enjoyed the spurts of great defense.
“That’s my favorite part of the game,” Haddock said. “I love defense. For me, it’s just simpler. You just have to keep the person in front of you and don’t let them get to the basket.”
Just as defense is a collective effort, so too was Southeast’s scoring balance. Makayla Sutton and Tamia Davis pitched in with eight points each, and Tamia Hicks and Kia Abrams had seven apiece.
Now headed to the regional semifinals, the stakes are higher for Southeast.
“Through the course of these playoffs, we have finished well,” Meyers said. “Our starts have been kind of shaky. We were glad to see the first quarter come out the way that we did. The second and third were a killer. Going into the next round, we can’t afford to have lapses like that.”