Miss Hall's basketball goes 1-2 at own tip-off tournament
PITTSFIELD — The first couple of games the Miss Hall's School's girls basketball team played without Grace Guachione went just fine. After that, the real work started.
The Hurricanes handled Simon's Rock on Friday and then Stoneleigh-Burnham in the opener of their own tip-off tournament on Saturday without the leading scorer in program history — by a wide margin. Games 2 and 3 of the weekend round robin presented a new set of things to work on. Hall's fell to St. George's 50-44 in a close one before a suffocating full-court press gave no room to operate in a 67-33 loss to Watkinson in the third-place game Sunday afternoon.
Miss Hall's (2-2) used the weekend to learn a lot about their new-look squad, which graduated serious top-level talent last year in Guachione — currently playing at Division II Saint Anselm's — and starters Mary Catherine Balcom and Gabriela Keator. Head coach Brad Horth remained optimistic after the Watkinson rout, saying the Hurricanes are a lot farther along four games in than he thought they might be.
"We're very happy with the weekend as a whole. Watkinson is tough. They're athletic one through nine and we're running a little bit on empty," said Horth, who is joined on staff this season by former Cornell University women's basketball assistant Brendan Burke, a local St. Joseph graduate. "I think we're in a better place now than where I thought we'd be coming into the season."
Much of that optimism stems from a strong performance in the 9:30 a.m. game against the Dragons of St. George's, who finished a distant runner-up to St. Luke's and former Hall's coach Matt Ward. Hall's led the Dragons early, 12-4, getting a flurry of points from Julianne Liebow, a transfer student this year from Vermont Academy, on the perimeter. A back-and-forth first half saw St. George go ahead 22-20 at the break and the Dragons really started flexing their muscle after that.
"They started hitting a couple shots and got some second, third, fourth chances, and when you're as small as we are it's tough to give those up," said Horth. "We did a good job responding, just a little lapse for a couple minutes and they stretched it."
Using a significant size advantage in the interior, St. George forged ahead by double-digits on a 12-0 run through the middle of the second half. Hall's battled back, though. Shae Daley scored on a put-back with five minutes left and the Hurricanes defense forced a shot clock violation at the other end. Later, Emily Hunter came away with a steal at mid court and drove the other way for a layup to draw her team within 43-37. Leiya Stuart (20 points) exited a timeout with a three-pointer for the Dragons, but Merriam Lrhazi answered with a bucket through traffic and then a step-up three to make it 50-44. Neither team could make anything happen over the final 1:20.
The Hurricanes spread it around in the loss, getting 15 points from Liebow — including four three-pointers — to go along with 11 from Lrhazi and eight each from Daley and Hunter.
"This is very much a team-first mentality and the kids have done a great job learning a new system. It's a big change from last year," said Horth. "We're getting the ball around. Balanced scoring, that's been the story so far and it'll change from game to game."
Miss Hall's is lead by a trio of senior captains, including Berkshire County locals Hunter and Daley, who pair with starting center Emma Genovesi to form the leadership core for Horth. After four games in three days, the team was spent, but now the work of building off knowledge gained against elite teams will come into play.
"We only had a couple practices before this, so we're still trying to figure things out. We had a lot of starters who left, so we're regrouping and getting things going as a team," said Daley.
"I think things are going really well so far," added Hunter. "Everyone has to contribute. We're running the floor well right now, we're all pretty smooth and quick."
When Watkinson let up off its full-court press, the Hurricanes played a fairly even game. Unfortunately, by the time coach Amanda Morales called off the blitz, the Rams had built a healthy 39-14 halftime lead. Behind an early five points from Daley, who finished with a team-high 13, the Hurricanes hung around through the opening minutes. Eventually, though, turnovers became rampant and Watkinson never stopped capitalizing. Liebow put in seven points, while Bri Jamison had four off the bench.
"I think, although we're not a tall team, everyone is going and hitting the boards," said Genovesi. "I got a lot of help on the glass today and we're working on all boxing out consistently."
In the weekend's finale, St. Luke's got out early and built a monster lead on St. George's. The Storm had the benefit of playing both their preliminary games Saturday, and earning the right to relax Sunday until the championship game at 3:30 p.m. The well-rested squad led 43-15 at halftime and finished off the Dragons 71-39. Ward was able to do some scouting at the morning game, watching his old team test them until the final minute.
"I really love coming back here. Brad's doing a great job. It's fun to come out, see the people, but also get to play some really good teams," Ward said. "Our girls loved it last year, so it was an easy decision to come back. It's nice to win, too, that's for sure."
While the Hurricanes didn't get to meet Ward's Storm on the court, they will travel to square off in Connecticut on Feb. 3.
Ward coached at Hall's and served as athletic director until 2015. He guided St. Luke's to a NEPSAC Class C semifinal last season after also winning the Miss Hall's Tip-Off Classic with the Storm last December.
The Hurricanes next host Westover at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Mike Walsh can be reached at email@example.com, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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