Defense Keys Eagles
ERHS Wins Despite One FG In 4th Quarter
Posted: March 9, 2013
RICHMOND — East Rockingham High School beat two teams at the Siegel Center this week en route to its second straight Division 1 girls’ basketball state title. Both vanquished coaches had something in common, and it wasn’t losing to East Rock.
They were left frustrated — and impressed — by the Eagles’ tenacious, personal-bubble violating, all-day, all-night, lockdown defense.
“They’re so good at every position,” said Altavista coach Debra Spencer, whose team lost 35-31 to ERHS on Friday in the state-title game. “There’s really not a weak spot out there on the floor that you can look to exploit or attack. They’re disciplined; they’re fundamentally sound. They’re long — they’re maybe not really tall, but they’re long and very active and basketball smart. They look to trap you, and they read things really well.”
In two games in Richmond, the Eagles (29-1) held opponents to a total of 63 points — just under 32 per game. Castlewood, East Rock’s semifinal victim, shot 27.9 percent from the floor (12-for-43) and Altavista shot 30.2 percent (13-for-43) but just 25 percent (5-for-20) in the first half.
“They’re very good, very talented, very experienced,” Castlewood coach Barry Ruff said Thursday. “… They’re very active on defense, which makes it hard on any team.”
But, more than shooting percentage, ERHS’s defense was most apparent in turnovers.
Castlewood turned it over 39 times — 24 times in the first half alone. (High school games are only 32 minutes.) Altavista had 27 turnovers and four of them came in the Colonels’ key final five possessions. Those turnovers, forced by the Eagles’ relentless defense, came without AHS getting a shot and helped East Rock win its second straight state championship.
“Defense is one of those things — it’s like taking the trash out,” ERHS senior center Meghan Nicholson said. “You never want to do it; it’s hard; it’s grinding; it’s annoying. Nobody ever wants to do it, but when you can’t hit a shot — you miss two-foot shots — that’s just what you have to fall back on.”
In the state semis and final, defense helped East Rock overcome forgettable offensive performances.
In the semifinal, the Eagles shot 30.6 percent but missed a bunch of layups. In the final, they made just one field goal in the fourth quarter and went 3-of-8 from the foul line. But East Rock’s defense — a matchup zone — didn’t just compensate; it carried the Eagles.
“I love it when a team — like you’re playing really good defense, and they’re cussing and yelling like, ‘Get open!’ from their teammates,” said sophomore guard Katie Dofflemyer, one of ERHS’s top defenders. “It’s like the best feeling, ever.”
East Rockingham coach Paul Comer said defense is emphasized from the first day of practice, as is conditioning. In the title game Friday, ERHS played just six players and four of those six played the full game.
“The first thing we do before we touch a basketball is play defense,” said Comer, who has guided ERHS to the state final-four in each of the school’s three years of existence. “... That’s kind of the way we operate. A lot of nights when we’re struggling on the offensive end, our defense gets us through, and they’ve bought into that. It’s not an easy thing to do. A lot of teams can’t commit themselves to playing on the defensive end that way. They understand that’s the necessary means to an end.”
The last two seasons, that end has been a state championship.