HomeNewsLady Hawks’ success started on defensive end of court

Lady Hawks’ success started on defensive end of court

The South Side Lady Hawks gave up an average of 32.5 points in their 34 wins this season.

They scored at least 11.5 more than that in every game, scoring fewer than 50 twice all season.

The Lady Hawks’ full court press that’s been a point of concern for opposing coaches for the past few years became a hallmark for this team, stifling opposing players from the tip until the final horn – for the few teams that kept the game competitive that long.

“We’re not looking for a perfect defensive game,” said head coach Brent McNeal after a win over Chester County in the region semifinals. “We’re looking for the girls to play smart and aggressive and make their players think.

“When you force teenagers to think on their feet in ways they’re not used to, most of the time you can get them to make mistakes.”

Forcing mistakes – which typically registers in game statistics as turnovers – was an important brick in the foundation that led to the edifice that is the undefeated championship season.

While there are no official statistics for forced turnovers for the entire season, official stat sheets from the three games in the Class 3A state tournament in Murfreesboro show the Lady Hawks’ defense forced 19 turnovers in each game while they committed nine, six and 13 respectively.

“We work a lot on defense – most of practice,” said senior Jakarrah Anderson during an interview in January. “Coach tells us all the time if we keep them from scoring a lot of points, then we don’t have to score a lot to win.

“So we try to keep them from scoring as much as we can.”

The end result was few games in which the game was in doubt in the fourth quarter with the starters being able to rest the entire fourth quarter for about half the games and even a few games simply starting the third quarter for a few minutes and then coming out.

In 14 of the 34 wins (or nearly half the season), South Side won their games by 35 points or more, the margin of victory needed to invoke the TSSAA’s mercy rule with a running clock.

“We know we’re not going to blow everybody out because Coach tried to put together as tough a schedule as possible for us,” said senior Albany Collins during an interview in December. “But whether we’re winning by 30 or if we’re behind, Coach (Brent) McNeal and Coach (Adrian) Comer will coach us the same like we’re down by a bucket with a minute left because teams that are as great as we want to be never let up.”

The Lady Hawks never let up. It wasn’t often an opposing player had the opportunity to bring the ball up the floor without at least one South Side player playing defense on her like she was under the basket and not 80 feet away.

And while some teams managed to handle it for a quarter, sometimes two, eventually the pressure got the better of most.

The sectional win over Murfreesboro Central was an ideal example of that.

South Side had a hard time pulling away from the visiting team that night in the first half, and the Lady Hawks found themselves up by three when McNeal called a timeout with about three minutes remaining before halftime.

The players responded by scoring 12 straight before halftime en route to a 23-point win to claim a second straight trip to the state tournament.

That night after the game, sophomore Jaidynn Askins told about how McNeal pointed her out specifically to play tougher defense during that second quarter timeout.

“He said I needed to play more aggressive because I wasn’t trying hard enough or nearly as hard as I could,” Askins said. “And he said if I could get some wins on the defensive end then that would help me get some wins on the offensive end and score some points.”

A similar conversation had to happen between the two during the semifinal game against Elizabethton when the Lady Hawks were down by 15 and had to spend the entire second half clawing their way back before forcing two overtimes.

The difference shows in the scoring after halftime as South Side outscored its opponent 62-42 in the final two quarters and the two extra periods.

“We’ve worked these girls hard all offseason and during the season to be able to press the way we do as much as we do,” McNeal said.

The work paid off as well as proving true the old adage: “Defense wins championships.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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