Nash Central forward Anaiya Harris, front, drives to the basket as Triton forward Allure Smith defends Tuesday during the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs second-round game at Nash Central High School.
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Telegram photo / Adam Jennings

Nash Central forward Anaiya Harris, front, drives to the basket as Triton forward Allure Smith defends Tuesday during the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs second-round game at Nash Central High School.

Nash Central eases past Erwin Triton

By Josh walfish

Sports Writer

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Terri Cash had plenty of reasons to smile Thursday night.

Nash Central’s offense was efficient, its defense shut down Erwin Triton’s key players and the Bulldogs’ role players stepped up in a big way. It was a complete team performance that earned the fourth-seeded Bulldogs a smooth 77-58 victory in the second round of the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs.

“They were very receptive to the gameplan,” Cash said. ”I felt like they listened and implemented (what we discussed), and that makes a big difference.”

The defensive gameplan was relatively simple – try to limit how many touches Je’nae Howard and Tarica Worney received.

The Bulldogs (22-4) struggled to locate Howard in the first half when she scored 13 of her 14 points, netting three 3-pointers in transition. Those shots allowed the Hawks (18-8) to keep pace early, but as soon as they stopped falling, Nash Central began to pull away.

“We definitely needed to put a hand up in her face,” junior guard Michaela Nelms said. “That’s what we were missing. We were
leaving her wide open. Once we got a hand in her face, it kind of limited her points.”

Caresha Leonard played a large role in eliminating the effect Worney had on the game. The senior played solid, fundamental defense and made sure to put a body on Worney whenever the ball was in the air. Worney grabbed a few offensive rebounds, but could not muscle her way back to the hoop because of Leonard’s presence.

“If Caresha and Rebecca (Speight) play well, then we play well,” Cash said, ”and I thought Caresha played really well (Thursday). It goes back to implementing our gameplan. Defending her was one of our primary (objectives).”

With Worney ineffective and Howard tightly-guarded, the Hawks struggled to find any openings in the defense. Their only source of offense came from Allure Smith, who scored 11 of her 15 points in the third quarter by simply grabbing offensive rebounds and putting them back up for layups. But even those rebounds and putbacks were contested, something Cash stressed a lot to her team in the lead up to the game.

Nelms returned to the court Thursday after sitting out Tuesday’s win with an ankle injury. She certainly didn’t look too hobbled as she led the Bulldogs with 22 points. Playing as an off guard with Myia Spivey running the point, Nelms gained some confidence when a couple of her early jump shots fell and only improved as the Hawks tried to speed up the game in the third quarter.

After an 18-turnover performance Tuesday, Nash Central did a much better job taking care of the ball Thursday. Cash said that although Nelms wasn’t at the helm of the offense, her mere presence gave the team a boost and opened up the floor for the other players.

“Her presence gives everybody else confidence.” Cash said. ”She’s another threat offensively so it opens it up for other people.”

The game began to turn around when a referee changed his mind on a block-charge call with Nash Central trailing by one. Nelms was barreling down the lane when a Triton defender stepped up to draw a foul. As the referee went to motion for the charge on Nelms, he suddenly dropped his fist and counted the basket.

The Bulldogs never trailed again as the foul sparked a 12-2 run that gave them an eight-point halftime lead. As the Hawks (18-8) inched back into the game in the middle of the third quarter, the Bulldogs slammed the door shut for the final time with a 13-3 spurt that ended all doubts of the outcome.

“For us, it’s about making shots,” Cash said. “And more than that, making the right shots and not just settling for and depending on the outside shots but getting looks closer to the basket.”

Robbi Allen added 15 points for the Bulldogs, who play host Northern Guilford on Saturday in a third-round matchup.

The Nighthawks (22-7) defeated Wilson Fike in the first round and upset No. 5 Chapel Hill on Thursday night.

Nelms said if the Bulldogs want to repeat their performance Saturday, it will begin with how focused they are come tipoff.

“We have to be mentally ready to play,” Nelms said. ”We have to really want it and play as a team to win.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at 407-9952 or jwalfish@rmtelegram.com