With the youth on its roster, there’s little doubt the Bradford girls basketball team is going to have some growing pains this season.
And at times Friday night, especially in the second half, the Red Devils looked the part with Southeast Conference rival Indian Trail breathing down their necks.
But Bradford withstood that late charge and emerged still perfect in the young conference season.
The Red Devils held a 19-point halftime lead but saw that dwindle to just a five-point edge in the final two minute before they held off the Hawks for a 54-47 win in the first game of a girls-boys doubleheader between the two schools at Bradford.
It’s certainly still early, but chalk this win up in the “big” category, Bradford coach Nicole Ferrille said.
“It’s a huge win for our program, for our girls,” she said. “They came out with intensity and did everything we asked them to do. We were picked to come in last in the conference, and we’re 2-0 (3-2 overall) right now.
“We hope we can continue with this and continue working hard and winning basketball games.”
The positive for Indian Trail coach Rob VanDyke, whose team dropped to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the SEC, was that the Hawks refused to quit even in the face of what seemed to be an insurmountable deficit at halftime.
“Our girls have a lot of fight,” he said. “We just have to have that fight from the first possession. I thought Bradford did a good job getting out on us early and stretching the lead. They got some easy buckets because we didn’t get back in transition.
“We just talked about at halftime that we had to just go play, get after it and do what we do. We’ve been making strides. We have to continue to get better.”
The game hung in the balance with just 1 minute, 1 second left when the Red Devils put together perhaps the most critical sequence of the night.
Bradford missed two free throws, but sophomore Aniyah Ervin collected a pair of offensive rebounds on the play that eventually led to a critical three-point play by freshman Nevaeh Thomas (17 points, 10 rebounds) off an assist by fellow freshman Haley Christiansen (14 points, four assists, three steals).
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By the time the dust had cleared, the Red Devils had an eight-point lead they wouldn’t give back.
Ervin was a rebounding machine with 20 to go with her 13 points.
“We’ve been focusing on rebounding and really stressing rebounding,” Ferrille said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t knocking down our free throws tonight, but they made up for it in other ways.”
Indian Trail, which trailed 28-9 at halftime, used a stifling pressure defense to get back within range.
A reverse layup by Indian Trail junior Kalina Winslow (eight points) and a 3-pointer by senior Kelsey Cornell (nine points) cut the lead to 48-42 with 2:40 left. A baseline drive and a basket by Winslow and a rebound basket by senior Jasani Williams (11 points, five rebounds) pulled the Hawks within five points twice to set up the final minute.
“We were able to do some things extending the floor, pressuring them a little bit and getting some easy buckets ourselves in the second half,” VanDyke said. “That was obviously a positive.”
The pressure defense applied by Indian Trail certainly made an impact, Ferrille said.
“We’re young,” she said. “I’m playing a lot of freshmen. It’s easy for them to just get flustered and throw the ball. I think their composure against that press was fantastic. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
For most of the first half, it looked like it would be a Bradford runaway.
A three-point play by Williams with 6:03 left before intermission cut the Red Devils’ lead to 14-9 — but that was the end of the offense in the first half for the Hawks, as Bradford ripped off the next 14 points.
Christiansen led the way during the run with a pair of 3-pointers to spark the late scoring burst.
“Credit their defense,” VanDyke said. “They’re long and lanky. I thought we were a little hesitant in the beginning. We got some good shots. We just couldn’t find the rim and the basket. We had a couple offensive opportunities at putbacks that we just didn’t get.”
Indian Trail senior Maddie Kozel added 11 points for the Hawks, while sophomore Lauryn Johnson added six points and seven rebounds. Sophomore Grace Peltier grabbed six rebounds for Indian Trail.