- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
It was the kind of defensive hustle from North Point reserve guard Valencia Vastey usually associated with a tight game in the latter stages, where coming up with every loose ball is imperative.
North Point’s stifling full-court pressure defense deflected the ball from the Severna Park Falcons, and Vastey scampered after it in all-out desperation mode.
The ball rolled out of bounds with Vastey in hot pursuit, unleashing an aggressive slide toward the end of her team’s bench, where head coach Michael Serpone happened to be stationed.
Serpone could not avoid the oncoming Vastey; the collision undercut the feet of the Eagles coach and abruptly brought him down — signature sweater vest-tie combination and all.
There were 2 minutes 38 seconds left in Wednesday’s third quarter of a comfortable 38-point North Point lead at that juncture — and what was a hot Severna Park team was still stuck on just six points — but Vastey and her teammates were conceding nothing, even at the risk of their coach’s well being.
Such overwhelming defense epitomized the 57-15 thumping applied by top-seeded North Point in the Class 4A East Region semifinals; visiting Severna Park of Anne Arundel County was throttled to just four field goals, the last two not occurring until the final 1:37 of the third quarter.
“Definitely every possession counts. Fifty-fifty balls, we have to make them ours, and so the little things are what count the most,” North Point senior standout Tasia Butler said about Vastey’s effort reflecting the nature of their team.
Butler led undefeated North Point (24-0 overall) with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds in the lopsided win over 12th-seeded Severna Park (15-10).
This is a North Point club that was coming off its first triple-digit scoring performance in program history in Monday’s 101-18 rout of Chesapeake in the regional quarterfinals. The Eagles have proven this year that they can mount offensive numbers with the best of teams.
They have registered at least 80 points nine times this season, but it’s defensively where North Point hangs its hat.
“Keeping [Severna Park] under 20 [points] was definitely a success for us; we did it last game, so we’re just trying to keep it going,” the Syracuse-bound Butler added. “We’ve definitely focused on defense this year, that being our strongest point.”
Serpone echoed, choosing what impressed him most about his team between Monday’s offensive explosion or Wednesday’s clamp job on Severna Park, “The defense because it’s something we preach all the time. The first day of tryouts [going into the season], we didn’t touch a basketball, nothing but defense. Defense wins championships.”
He then suggested that Wednesday’s defensive showing would result in state glory for his players without specifically saying it, “If they hustle like that and play like that…
“The last few games of the regular season and then these two [playoff] games, the [defensive] intensity is the biggest thing. This is the best defensive we’ve ever had. I think we’ve given up less [than four field goals] a few times [in a game before]. But I would say the caliber of competition [those times] wasn’t [Severna Park]. I don’t think we’ve ever [given up less than four field goals] in the playoffs.”
The Eagles have not yielded more than 18 points in any of their last four games.
More banners in Eagles’ sights
In search of its third-straight regional crown, North Point hosts second-seeded South River, also from Anne Arundel County, at 6:30 tonight in the 4A East title game.
South River downed Leonardtown, 44-24, in the other region semifinal contest Wednesday.
North Point clinched the last two regional titles with wins over visiting South River, by 22 points last year and five points two postseasons ago.
“I think defensively, I don’t think people want anything to do with us if we play like [we did against Severna Park],” Serpone said. “I think [our players] are comfortable with [us as the state favorite]. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would much rather be on this end of the totem pole than the other end of the totem pole. I think the kids embrace it and they know they got a target on their backs. They’ve known it for quite some time.”
Severna Park was harassed into 39 turnovers while shooting 17 percent on just 23 attempts from the floor for the game. North Point attempted 19 field goals in the first quarter alone, while having 21 less turnovers.
North Point out-scored Severna Park by 18-3 counts in each of the opening two quarters.
And this was a Severna Park team that was winner of seven straight and 15 of its previous 20 games entering Wednesday.
“We knew they had good three-point shooters, so we had to get out on the wings and not let them get the easy shots up,” said North Point junior forward Khaila Prather, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. “We knew we had to come out on defense. We were on the ball, we were in their face, and that’s our defense. That’s North Point defense.”
Guards Chalise Greenwood and KanDeon Niravanh each had nine points for North Point.
Severna Park managed just one three-pointer in the first and second quarters as the entirety of their first-half scoring, having no answers against North Point’s tireless pressure. Severna Park was out-rebounded, 41-24, including 21-7 on the offensive glass.
“It was a bad match-up for us,” Severna Park first-year head coach Lisa Magness said. “Our goal at the beginning of the season was to get to [regional semifinals] and to play North Point here and to get up for the challenge. It was a good learning experience for us and a good learning experience for me as a first-year head coach. It’s a great atmosphere for us to play in. We have stuff to work on that was definitely exposed tonight, but we played as best we possibly could.”
Senior forward Hannah Carroll led Severna Park with six points, hitting a pair from long range. No other Severna Park player tallied more than three points.