Precocious might not be the best word to describe the Albany girls’ basketball team. The Lady Falcons may be young and talented, but they play beyond their years.
The Big 10 leaders improved to 7-0 in the league, 13-0 overall, Tuesday night with a 64-45 home win over Bishop Maginn, a game that was all but over when Albany scored the first nine points of the game and led, 25-8, after one period.
Emia Willingham-Hurst and India Terrell both scored six points in the opening eight minutes, Brehanda Stratton added five points and was a force on the boards, and Akira Hutchinson held Bishop Maginn’s Kayla Miller to four points in the opening quarter.
“That was a good start,” said Lady Falcons coach Kelly Haggerty-MacNabb, who started three sophomores — Stratton, Terrell and Cara Waterson — and a pair of juniors (Willingham-Hurst and Hutchinson). “We rebounded, played good defense.”
Willingham-Hurst and Stratton were starters on last season’s team that reached the Class AA semifinals. The season ended abruptly when the Lady Falcons fell behind Shaker, 21-3, after one quarter as Willingham-Hurst got into early foul trouble.
“We can’t look too far ahead,” she said about this season. “We want to keep getting better. It’s a good start [13-0], but we want to have a good year.”
Stratton uses the loss for motivation, when she allows herself to think about it.
“I don’t think about it too much, but it does kind of motivate us,” she said. “We want to work hard, play well and win our games.”
Though their playing time was limited in the second half Tuesday, Willingham-Hurst and Stratton showed how good the Lady Falcons can be.
“She knows that she’s not going to play the whole game, and she respects the other team. She’s been on the other end of the that,” said Haggerty-MacNabb of her guard. “But you saw glimpses of it in spurts. She could have scored 30. That’s what’s nice about it.
“With Bre, when her shot’s not falling, she’s starting to learn that there are other things she can do to get her going within the offense. Like last year, Emia would just drive, and she’d travel, travel, travel. We got her to open up her outside game.
“It’s the same thing with Bre. She has an outside game. We’re trying to get her to develop an inside game and make her more of an all-around player.”
The other big part of Tuesday’s quick start was due to Hutchinson, who has taken on the role of unsung hero.
“We’ve been putting Akira on the opposing go-to player lately,” Haggerty-MacNabb said. “She works her tail off on defense. She doesn’t care about her offense. She gets her rebounds and putbacks. She’s our silent weapon.
“One of our goals was to try and shut down Miller. We wanted to tire her out. We’re deep and have fresh legs.”
Willingham-Hurst finished with a team-high 13 points, and Terrell added 11. Miller was best for the 3-4 Lady Griffins, getting 14 of her 18 points in the second half.
The win left the Lady Falcons one game up on Catholic Central and two ahead of Troy in the Big 10. Defending its first league title would mean a lot for the Falcons, who play at Catholic Central and host Troy to end the regular season.
“One of the goals was to win the league again,” said Willingham-Hurst.
Though Haggerty-MacNabb isn’t letting her team look too far forward, she made a point of scheduling a strong non-league schedule.
“Hopefully, that will help us down the road,” she said. “We’re not going to worry about sectionals yet. We live in the now. Play every game like it’s your last.”
Lane 1-2-4, Coons 6-0-13, DiBiase 2-0-4, Miller 7-4-18, Stubbs 1-0-2, Hupe 1-0-2, Grimes-Thomas 1-0-2. Totals: 19-6-45.
Williingham-Hurst 6-0-13, Waterson 1-2-4, Williams 1-0-2, Hutchinson 2-1-5, Mallett 3-0-6, Terrell 4-3-11, Canty 2-0-4, Chandler 3-0-6, Stratton 3-0-6, A. Merritt 1-0-2, Valentine 2-0-5. Totals: 28-6-64.
Bishop Maginn 8 2 15 20 — 45
Albany 25 13 10 16 — 64
Three-point goals: Coons, Willingham-Hurst, Valentine.