Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Eagles endure struggles

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With five games left in the regular season, the High Point High School girls’ basketball team still is looking for its first win.

It’s not as though the Eagles haven’t come close. Five times they have played opponents tightly, only to let the game slip away in the final minutes and lose by single digits. High Point struck similar misfortune against a depleted Bladensburg team on Tuesday, when the Eagles came within 12 late in the third quarter before the Mustangs seized control and won, 67-30.

‘‘There’s a few games that we should have won but we didn’t,” said senior point guard Lauren Sanders. ‘‘I think it’s confidence. We all need to believe in ourselves that we can do it.”

For the Eagles, it has been hard to get that confidence. Two years ago they won nine games and last year they won three. Now they are running out of time to avoid slipping again.

Injuries and illnesses have decimated the roster — and the coaching staff — at times, too, said first-year coach Robert Grimes. The Bladensburg game was the first time since December that High Point’s whole 10-player roster was dressed and available to play. But even that rare full-strength moment was short lived, as freshman starter Porcia Smith left three minutes into the game with an ankle injury.

‘‘I’ve played with eight [players], I’ve played with seven, I’ve played with six,” Grimes said.

The Eagles stayed competitive early against the Mustangs, who were missing point guard Morgan McCollum and didn’t play 6-foot-1 Uchechi Ahaiwe until the second half.

Late in the third quarter, Sanders sent the ball to freshman Jasmin Young off a steal for a layup. On the Eagles’ next possession, Young hit Kristina Murphy at the top corner of the lane, and Murphy banked in a jumper, cutting the Mustangs’ lead to 37-25 with just under three minutes left.

Then, Ahaiwe came off the bench and dashed High Point’s hopes. She scored all 13 of her points while Bladensburg went on a 30-5 run to end the game. Ahaiwe was 7 for 8 from the foul line, as the Eagles struggled to defend in the post.

‘‘We need height,” said senior Velma McCormack.

McCormack and Sanders teamed up for some of High Point’s best offensive moments, as Sanders handed out six assists and McCormack scored seven points, a team high shared with sophomore Dachelle Robinson.

Five other players got on the scoreboard for High Point, including Murphy (two points), Sanders (one point), Young (five points), Minjote Mekonen (six points) and Jessica Oyawole (two points).

High Point is heavy on seniors, but Grimes is enthusiastic about the promise of his two freshmen, Smith and Young. Sophomores Murphy, Oyawale and Robinson also have made contributions.

‘‘They’re really talented,” Sanders said. ‘‘If we get more people we’ll be OK in the long run.”

Grimes, who came to High Point from coaching in Charlotte, N.C., said the grueling County 4A League schedule has provided him a rough introduction to basketball in the area. But he added he is looking forward to building the program.

‘‘You don’t get a break. Every night, it just doesn’t stop,” Grimes said. ‘‘I enjoy it. I told them to keep it fun. We have six seniors. I’ve got a bunch of freshmen and sophomores on varsity and a slew on JV.”

As evidence to their coach’s point, the players were still cracking smiles and cheering on their teammates’ baskets late in the game.

‘‘We’d be having more fun if we’d win a few games,” Sanders said. ‘‘But we play to have fun.”

E-mail Kevin Hilgers at khilgers@gazette.net.