Holly Springs coach Peace Shepard Easton will celebrate her team’s winning battle for the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference lead by simply getting a good night’s rest.
“I don’t think I slept all week,” Easton said with a laugh. “I’m tired; I’m going to sleep tonight.”
The Golden Hawks dominated Apex 48-36 on Wednesday night to take over first place in the SWAC. Both teams have identical 6-1 records in conference play, but Wednesday’s win gives Holly Springs the upper hand.
Easton spent much of the last week getting ready for the Cougars (11-5), even waking up at 3 a.m. thinking about what her team needed to do.
“We’ve got to beat them, we’ve got to beat them,” Easton would tell herself.
How did the Hawks pull off the win? Fierce defensive pressure – and junior point guard Brianna Tate.
Holly Springs forced 31 Apex turnovers, including 17 in the first half, while Tate scored 19 points and consistently got the Hawks out of trouble.
“She’s always going to be there for us,” Easton said. “Brianna is that firecracker on our team. She’s the leader on our team, and she’s going to give us what we need at that particular time. She’s going to get the team riled up. When Brianna’s fired up – which is 95 percent of our games – the rest of the team is going to be fired up.”
Apex coach Isaac Bristol figured his team would be fired up, too, but the Cougars were flat Wednesday night. And Bristol didn’t pull any punches.
“You’re not going to win any games with 30 turnovers,” Bristol said. “I thought Holly Springs did a great job of pressuring the ball, but I’m disappointed in our fight and grit tonight. We’re sitting at 6-0 in the conference, with this game being pivotal. I expected our senior leader group to come out and compete a lot better than we did tonight.
“Our focus was not where it needed to be. You’ve got to come into a game of this magnitude and be ready to ball, but I don’t think we were ready to play tonight.”
From the outset, Holly Springs (13-3) was quicker to the ball, on rebounds, on loose balls, in the passing lanes. Kimberly Schuh (14 points) scored on a nifty pass from Mia Castagnero for an 8-4 Apex lead three minutes into the game, but the Hawks went on a 13-0 run, keyed by five Apex turnovers.
“We’re a very fast team,” Tate said. “We don’t have the biggest people in the conference, but we have most of the fastest people. On offense, we just did transition, transition and didn’t slow down. That makes them tired, and just opened up offensive opportunities for us.”
Schuh drilled two 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter as Apex inched to within seven, 41-34, but two turnovers and a Tate fastbreak basket later, the game was out of reach.
“Our girls just played their hearts out on defense,” Easton said. “We’ve been working on that all week because we knew what we had to do for them. We’ve been working on Apex for a week now because we knew they had shooters in every spot. … They hustled their butts off.”
The Cougars did make 6 of 12 3s but took only 25 shots from the floor because of all the turnovers.
And then there was the intensity – or lack thereof.
“The team’s effort just wasn’t there tonight,” Castagnero said. “Our minds weren’t set right, and we had way too many unforced turnovers that eventually made us lose the game.
“As a senior, it does make me mad. But it also does motivate us. We know where we want to be in the rankings in the conference. It just pushes us to work harder.”