- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
It was a tale of two North Point basketball No. 1-seeded teams Wednesday at home in Section II semifinals of the Class 4A East Region playoffs.
With both the Eagles boys and girls teams gunning for their fourth straight regional crowns, only one survived in their opening action of the 4A East bracket after receiving first-round byes.
The heavily favored North Point girls lived up to their top-seeded billing in the region with another dismantling of the randomly fourth-seeded Leonardtown Raiders this year, cruising to 67-19 victory in the postseason contest as the defending state champions dominantly tipped off their playoffs.
During the regular season, the North Point girls (21-2 overall) overwhelmed Leonardtown (9-14) by lopsided outcomes of 61-15 and 72-23 en route to their winning their third straight Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title.
The North Point girls shut out Leonardtown in the opening quarter Wednesday while forcing 13 turnovers. That first eight-minute period saw the Eagles create a 13-0 advantage that only widened from there.
“For us, [this game] was just motivation to come out and play hard again,” North Point junior Valencia Vastey said after boasting a game-high 14 points against Leonardtown, as nine of her teammates also found the scoring column. “With a team [like Leonardtown], we kind of use [the game] as practice. We just run a lot of plays and make sure for the next team, we’re able to execute.”
The North Point girls hosted No. 2-seeded South River of Anne Arundel County on Thursday in the sectional finals, a contest that finished too late for inclusion into this edition.
The winner of that game advances to Saturday’s regional final versus the winner of the Section I championship that had Old Mill playing Arundel in an all-Anne Arundel County contest. The time and place for the regional final was not known at press time.
Things never got easy for the top-seeded North Point boys against the randomly fifth-seeded Annapolis Panthers from Anne Arundel County.
Relying on a new cast of go-to but talented players this year, the North Point boys suffered an uncharacteristic loss at home, particularly in the playoffs, 57-49.
Spearheaded by senior point guard Juan Brown, who scored 10 of his game-high 22 points in the final quarter, Annapolis outscored the North Point boys (17-6) by an 18-7 count the final 4 minutes 9 seconds to pull off the comeback win.
Annapolis (15-8) did not take its first lead until the opening seconds of the fourth, trailing by as much as six points in the first half.
“It’s really tough because we were expecting to at least get to Comcast [Center in College Park for the state playoffs],” North Point senior guard Ochae Dejene said about the surprising setback. “To fall in our first playoff game is real tough for us. It’s hard to take in.”
Dejene finished with a team-high 15 points, while senior forward Devin Allen added nine in the loss.
“It was just our sense of urgency [wasn’t there],” Dejene added. “We let down on a couple of little plays … boxing out and getting rebounds, missed foul shots, defense.”
Brown’s speed and ballhandling was too much for a North Point boys team that perennially prides itself on defense, as he was routinely able to find room for his pull-up jumper in the lane or get to the hoop. Brown also had a knack for getting to the line repeatedly, converting 9 of 10 free throws on the night.
Annapolis visited No. 2-seeded Great Mills on Thursday in the sectional final.
“This is the best ball-handling we’ve done all year. [Brown] is a fantastic ball-handler, but to be honest with you, he’s really our only legitimate guard,” Annapolis head coach John Brady said. “[North Point] is tough [defensively]. They don’t let you run anything. You have to go with freelancing. If you can get away from their trap, you can get shots, but getting away from their trap is not easy.
“When he needed to get by [the North Point defense], he got by them and he’s automatic from the foul line.”
Brown was perfect on all six of his free throws to spark Annapolis’ game-winning run the latter half of the fourth.
“He was good, I’ll give him credit,” Dejene said of Brown. “He was like the heart of the team. The only reason why they win is we just couldn’t stop him. That’s our fault on defense.”
North Point boys head coach Jimmy Ball added, “It took all season and I thought we finally became a team [right before the playoffs]. And [my players] finally earned the trust you need as a coach to coach them, and I was really expecting them to come out and play well today. For some odd reason, we didn’t.
“For doing that and making the little mistakes that we made, our season is cut short. We’re going home.”
No drama for North Point girls
The first 22 points in Wednesday’s girls game belonged to the Eagles before Leonardtown senior Maddie Bennett split a pair of free throws to get her team on the board with 4 minutes 24 seconds left in the half. Senior Ashley Guy notched Leonardtown’s first field with 3:48 remaining before intermission.
“We talked about [having urgency] before the game and we really talked about it after the [our boys team lost],” North Point girls head coach Michael Serpone said, his team taking the court in the wake of the Eagles boys losing. “I told [our players], if we convert really well and get from offense to defense and defense to offense and we do it quick and the way we want to do it, then I think we can legitimately get [to the state playoffs], compete and win a state championship [again].
“We did a great job of [going from offense to defense and vice versa] tonight. They didn’t score in the first quarter and it’s because we beat them down the floor all whole time. That’s our biggest strength: we’ve got to be able to convert and dictate tempo.”
KanDeon Niravanh was also in double digits with 10 points against Leonardtown.
“I think we can too,” Vastey added, agreeing with her coach that the North Point girls can compete with anyone in the state. “We’ve got a lot of players that have stepped up this year. Everybody just plays their position, and we play as a team. We’re feeling real confident.”
Guy had a team-high six points for Leonardtown, which trailed 31-7 at the break and 51-12 after three quarters before both teams went deep to their bench in the fourth.
“Their defense is really, really good and they put really good pressure on the ball and set good traps,” Leonardtown head coach Christie Doerrer said of North Point. “When we turn the ball over and give them easy baskets, that’s what their goal is. We don’t play any game to lose.
“It just didn’t work out in our favor tonight, and I wish North Point all the best moving forward. Being they’re in our conference, I’m definitely going to pull for them and hope they win the whole thing.”