Ross, Viking Girls Bounce Byrd
Led by a monster performance from junior captain Tyler Ross, the Union Pines Lady Vikings picked up a 51-34 victory against Douglas Byrd Friday in Cameron.
It was the Cape Fear Valley Conference opener for the Vikes, who are now 4-1 overall.
Ross finished with a 23-point, 20-rebound double-double, to go along with five assists, four steals and four blocks in the contest.
After establishing a 22-10 lead midway through the second quarter, Union Pines allowed the visiting Eagles to close the half on a 10-4 run. An offensive rebound and put back near the buzzer by Ross gave Union Pines a 26-20 halftime edge.
Despite the league-opening victory, head coach John Lewkowicz was less than pleased with the collective effort he witnessed from his club in the first half of action.
The fact that the Vikings’ lackluster performance came on the heels of a 41-33 loss to North Moore Wednesday in a cross-county clash that saw Union Pines squander a late 33-24 third-quarter lead to the Mustangs only added to the fifth-year head coach’s frustration.
“I talked about this after out last game (on Wednesday), but feel compelled to stress it again,” said Lewkowicz. “As a team, we are struggling to find our identity.”
With the graduation of 1,000-point-plus career-scorer Tyesha McLean last season, along with a gifted scoring and ball handling presence in 5-foot-9 shooting guard Tashi Whitney, Union Pines lost close to 60 percent of its total offensive production from last season. Along with a bevy of talent, the veteran tandem also left behind a void in terms of experience and leadership in the Union Pines’ backcourt.
“The way we played in the first half was very disappointing,” Lewkowicz said. “On our home court, after a practice this morning and coming off a loss Wednesday what I saw was some unfocused players out there, so I figured ‘Hey, we certainly cannot do any worse,’ so we gave some other players a shot and they stepped up.”
After a sub-par showing in terms of effort and decision making, Lewkowicz opted to bench starters Alex Parris, senior shooting guard, and junior point guard Dasia McCrimmon for the entire second half. The duo shot less than 20 percent from the field collectively in the opening two quarters, while combining for one field goal, along with no assists, no rebounds, no steals and several turnovers.
“It came down to putting the players (on the floor) that were going to dig down deep and it was all about hustle and determination — not would’ve-could’ve-should’ve. We are at the point in the season where we really want to challenge people because we are a different kind of team.
“We have to do it this year with blood sweat and tears — hustle — and even though (junior) Becca Greene has hardly played any this season, she went in there and hustled tonight and that is what you want to see from people at this stage. I also wanted to give (sophomore) Reagan (Molek) a shot. She has been hustling all season and she went in there and did a nice job and that is what we are looking for.”
With Greene and junior Bethany Daley starting the second half at the guard spots, Union Pines managed to stretch its lead to 39-29 through three quarters of play. Ross had nine points in the frame, and Greene made two steals. Meanwhile, senior captain Crystal Hicks, normally a forward, brought the ball up the court for the Vikings.
Greene and sophomore Lexie Coxe helped keep the defensive momentum Union Pines built in the third quarter alive in the final frame. Applying strong on-ball pressure from the front of the Vikes’ 2-3 zone the pair disrupted the Eagles’ offensive rhythm.
As a result, Union Pines held Douglas Byrd to five points in the final frame to win going away down the stretch. Hicks proved instrumental in making the Viking half-court offense run smoothly in the final two quarters, as she doled out five assists in the second half.
“Crystal is our point guard,” said Lewkowicz. “We are going to have to go with experience back there and she understands what we need to do. It may limit her ability to score off the ball but you have to pick your poison. For us to be successful we need to have the ball go through Crystal as much as possible, because if Tyler is going to get those touches it is going have to come from experience — which Crystal has plenty of.”
Hicks, a starter over the past two seasons at the three-spot for Union Pines, finished Friday’s game with seven assists, 14 rebounds, eight steals and five points.
“I am somewhat comfortable bring the ball up the court,” said Hicks, “but I’ve never been a point guard before because ever since I have been here we always had Tyesha (McLean) at that position. But if that is what I have to do, then I will have to get comfortable doing that, because here at Union Pines we have always been about doing what is best for the team.”
Sade Rogers led the Eagles in scoring with 11 points, while Kaitlyn Pearson had a team-high nine rebounds. Douglas Byrd fell to 1-4 overall and 0-1 in CFVC play with the loss.
Union Pines returns to conference action Wednesday in Hope Mills against Gray’s Creek (1-5, 0-0) at 6 p.m.
Douglas Byrd 7 13 9 5 — 34
Union Pines 14 12 13 12 — 51
Douglas Byrd: Rogers 3 5-10 11, Amerson 3 0-0 9, Pearson 3 0-0 6, Masters 1 0-0 2, Trotman 1 0-0 2, Jones 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 5-10 34.
Union Pines: Ross 11 1-2 23, Daley 3 1-2 7, Coxe 1 1-4 6, Hicks 2 1-5 5, Molek 2 0-0 4, T. Hicks 1 0-0 2, Parris 1 0-0 2, Greene 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 4-15 51.
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