Porter Ridge girls showing maturity at just the right time
by Aaron Garcia
Ina Thompson’s assessment of her team’s current progress seems a bit counterintuitive heading into next week’s Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference tournament. Her Porter Ridge girls basketball team has been one of the hottest squads in the county all season and has the record to prove it. Overall, the Pirates are 19-3, with an 8-2 league record.
But in many ways, the Pirates have found their success while being a work in progress.
Last season, the Pirates advanced all the way to the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs with a 24-4 record before being knocked out by Huntersville’s Hopewell High School. This season, the Pirates returned only two starters: Kelley Godbout and Jada Huntley. Surrounding those two this season have been players who earned minutes last year but had to adjust to starting roles, especially at point guard, where sophomore Jasmine Huntley has stepped in.
“I think each game we’ve gotten better and progressively come together where we’re finally getting that connection,” Thompson said.
But what could make Porter Ridge potentially one of the toughest teams in the upcoming Southern Carolina conference tournament is that fact that despite introducing new players into the starting lineup, the Pirates have won almost all season. They jumped out to a 5-0 record before stumbling against Piedmont at the beginning of the season. After that, it was another six games – including three wins en route to winning the CMC-Union Holiday Tournament – before the Pirates notched another loss.
Thompson agreed that her team could’ve faced a severe early-season setback with three new starters in the lineup, but credited senior Godbout with keeping the team together. The senior has averaged over 16 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, four steals and 2.5 blocks per game, but her impact has gone way beyond the stat sheet.
“She knows what our coaching staff expects out of the team and she can relay that and communicate that,” said the coach. “We have a coach on the floor at all times for 32 minutes.”
Jasmine Huntley, a sophomore, agreed and said that Godbout has done a good job of making all the players feel equal, which is something she’s taken with her into the point guard position.
“You just have to treat everyone equally,” she said. “You can’t discriminate because you’re a different age. You have to get along with everybody and know what everybody can do.”
But more than Godbout simply keeping the team afloat has been its ability to score. “Last year we focused a lot on defense and that seemed to carry us through whereas this year we have players who specialize in their own thing,” the coach said.
Guard Haley Secrest, in anticipation of increased minutes this season, improved her conditioning and outside shooting. Jada Huntley, too, has increased her accuracy from outside. Jasmine Huntley, the point guard, has added quickness and a rim-attacking mind-set, said Thompson.
“The combination of all that, I think, is the reason things haven’t been disastrous (while we broke in three new starters),” Thompson said.
The turning point, said Thompson, was the start of conference play. Despite winning the CMC-Union Holiday tournament, the team was still working on its chemistry when January rolled around, but resuming conference play with a win over rival Marvin Ridge was a very good sign.
“At that point we were still trying to figure out our flow and get people set offensively,” Thompson said. “After that Marvin Ridge game, we started getting focused and finally getting our subs right, our offensive combinations right. After that I started seeing some consistency from the girls.”
But the Pirates also have benefited from a strong outside influence. Conference rival Parkwood has also had a stellar season, racing to a 19-2 overall record and an 8-1 mark in the conference, which has placed some immediacy on the Pirates’ development since every single game could be the difference between first- and second-place in the conference.
“It’s kept them focused and it’s keeping us focused,” said Thompson. “I think that will help us in the long run to produce in the state tournament.”
For the season, the Pirates and the Rebels have split their series; Porter Ridge won 81-64 on Jan. 19 before falling to Parkwood, 54-42, on Feb. 1. The loss was Porter Ridge’s first since Jan. 14, and for Secrest, there was a silver lining to the heart-breaking defeat.
“It just basically told us that we can’t go out there thinking we’re going to win every game,” she said. “We need to go out and be serious from the get-go and be ready to play and not think everything is going to go the way we want it.”
Added Jasmine Huntley: “It actually woke us up and let us realize we can’t just come out and know we’re going to win, we have to play for it.”
The lesson seems to have stuck; since that loss the Pirates have gone 4-0, including a huge overtime win over Charlotte Ardrey Kell, a Class 4A team that seems poised to make a deep run in the state playoffs.
“That was so much fun, that was definitely a confidence booster,” said Godbout. “It was nice to play a 4A team and beat them.”
But still, there’s much for the Pirates to work on. Thompson wants to see her team continue to come out of halftime with some fire, rather than suffer mini-scoring droughts, as they did against Ardrey Kell when the Knights erased a second-half deficit to push the game into overtime.
“In the playoffs, you’re not going to get that second chance,” the coach said. “I think that was a great thing for us. That’s exactly what we needed right now.”
Because Parkwood is a Class 3A team (compared to the 4A Pirates), there will probably be only one more chance to face, and beat, the Rebels if the two happen to meet in the conference tournament, but for Thompson, that fact is secondary to seeing how her team reacts to the increased pressure that the postseason brings.
“One thing I’m still hesitant about as we get into the playoffs is you still have that young blood out on the floor in clutch situations,” she said. “Being able to hold it together next week in a tournament setting will help us test the waters with that so that we can get ready for the state playoffs.”