Photo by Heather Middleton
By Brian Paglia
On any given night, North Clayton's girls basketball team can predict, with near certainty, how much production it will get from center Miranda
Cantrell, the Region 4-AAAA player of the year, and guards Destiny Tejada and Ariele Thomas.
All three are seniors and the team's most consistent performers. A strong game from those three alone makes the Lady Eagles a good team.
But North Clayton coach Shaka Owens said the Lady Eagles become a great team when sophomore forward Lorenda Holston plays like she did Friday night in a 54-39 victory over Brunswick in the first round of the Class AAAA tournament.
It was Holston that carried North Clayton (20-7) through the first quarter. She scored four points during the Lady Eagles' 9-0 run to start the game. Holston grabbed an offensive rebound and made a lay-up to give North Clayton an early 18-3 lead.
By the end of the quarter, Holston had 11 points, more than Cantrell, Tejada and Thomas combined.
"We came out with a lot of intensity and ready to play," said Holston, who finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds. "We were just working hard and doing what we had to do."
"Without her being that effective, we would not be that good of a team," Owens said. "I was very excited about how she came out in the first quarter and gave us a lift. If she plays like that all the time, we'll be great."
North Clayton will play at Warner Robins, the No. 1 seed from Region 1, on Tuesday in the second round. The Lady Eagles lost in the second round last season to Glenn Hills.
But their run to the Region 4-AAAA championship game, where North Clayton lost in overtime to sixth-ranked Forest Park, emboldened the Lady Eagles to believe they can advance farther this season.
"I believe if we play like we played (Forest Park) every game, we can meet up with them again and show them who really should have won," Cantrell said.
Should North Clayton be so fortunate, it will have do so with Cantrell enduring double- and triple-teams from opponents. Brunswick (12-18) smothered the 5-foot-11 forward with several defenders whenever she caught a pass in the paint.
North Clayton had a comfortable 29-15 lead at halftime, and Cantrell had just five points. But with Holston's impressive first half -- she had 11 points and 10 rebounds by halftime -- that wasn't a problem.
"Lorenda helped us a lot," Cantrell said. "They had three people on me. It was very hard for us to get the ball into me. That's usually how every game goes. I was surprised she stepped up so quickly in the first half."
"When she gets in trouble, I have to be there to help her out," Holston said. "We're always working on that every day in practice, so we know what to do."
Cantrell finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Thomas had 12 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Tejada added 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Destiny Alston led Brunswick with nine points.