by Aaron Garcia
The words LET’S PROVE IT, emblazoned across the backs of their warm-up shirts, is an internal reminder, not a boastful claim, for the Porter Ridge girls basketball team. But ultimately, what the Pirates are out to achieve with their play would certainly justify some bragging.
Still, the mantra is more of a tool, said Pirates coach Ina Thompson.
“Everyday I challenge them,” she said. “(I ask them,) ‘What are you proving out there? Yeah, you have a decent record right now (16-2), but actually the season’s not over yet. You haven’t won anything.’”
And the point couldn’t be more poignant on the heels of a five-game stretch that has left them with their first two losses and looking up at Anson in the Southern Carolina 3A/4A league standings with a 4-2 mark.
The Pirates started the season 13-0 with hustle, discipline and strong shooting – which helped mask the deficiency in rebounding caused by the graduation of last year’s leading rebounder, Kelley Godbout. But it finally caught up to them against Parkwood and glass-clearing forwards Emry Tsitouris, Justice McKenney and Bailey Simms in a Jan. 17 loss. The rebounding woes appeared again on Jan. 24, when the Pirates fell to Anson, 51-47, conceding first place to the Bearcats.
But perhaps a bigger obstacle has been breaking in a host of new players, especially when facing opponents the second time around. This year’s roster features seven players who are freshmen or sophomores, with only two seniors and four juniors. And at times, especially in the previous five games, the Pirates’ inexperience has shown. It’s been evident even during wins, such as their 40-36 victory over Marvin Ridge on Jan. 20, which included a six-minute stretch that saw each team score just two points.
“We’ve been struggling offensively,” Thompson said.
With experience generally comes fluidity, which is a process veterans such as senior Haley Secrest and juniors Jada Huntley and Jasmine Huntley are trying to expedite.
“There are some adjustments to make,” said Jasmine Huntley. “We’ve got to get (the new players) broken in and used to (the system).”
Added Secrest: “We have to come together and work as a team. We have a variety of ages, but we’re mainly a younger team. We have our older players that are there to support them.”
Thompson hopes the mantra also guards against another problem that popped up since the Pirates’ 13-0 start.
“We got too complacent,” said Thompson. “Sometimes we show up, and we’re not ready to play. We’ve just got to play a full 32 minutes, and that’s where we’ve fallen short. These teams are good enough that they’re making us pay.”
Added Jada Huntley: “We can’t just show up and think we’re going to win. We have to play hard and play as a team.”
Thompson received an encouraging sign on Jan. 25 when the Pirates beat Piedmont, 55-34. Jasmine Huntley led all scorers with 23 points, followed by Jada Huntley’s 17. It was the team’s highest point total since a 65-34 win over Central Cabarrus on Dec. 9, and Thompson hopes it proves something to her team.
“I think they did a good job, and I’m hoping that built their confidence that they needed because we’ve been out of synch offensively,” Thompson said. “Hopefully this was a good win and I hope it will take us into Friday.”