Lady Raiders sail into stretch run

Published 9:53 am Wednesday, February 4, 2015

With only four games remaining in the regular season, the Southampton Academy girls basketball team has a chance to improve upon last year’s 10-10 record. A win tonight against Broadwater Academy would give the Lady Raiders their tenth win of the season, signaling their first winning campaign in three seasons. They’ll look for additional victories against Tidewater Academy, Amelia Academy and Blessed Sacrament-Huguenot later this month.

Southampton Academy’s Mason Pope puts up a layup earlier this season. Pope had 15 points against Halifax Academy. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Southampton Academy’s Mason Pope puts up a layup earlier this season. Pope had 15 points against Halifax Academy. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Southampton Academy would not be in this position if it weren’t for Sarah Best, who has averaged a team-high 14.5 points per game over the last month. During that stretch, Best has led the Lady Raiders to a 6-3 record, which included a four-game winning streak.

“She was hurt at the beginning of the season, but as she’s gotten healthy, we’ve gotten better,” said head coach Jeffrey Pope. “She’s our leader, she scores when we need it. She’s everything we needed her to be this season.”

Best’s stellar play was not enough to overcome a trip to Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, however, as Southampton Academy lost to Halifax Academy, 48-36. The 2014 NCISSA 1A State Runner-Up, the Vikings held Best to a season-low seven points. The senior point guard was also in foul trouble for most of the contest.

“When you play a team like that, you have to throw everything you have at them.” Pope said. “We played them well through three quarters, but we eventually got into some foul trouble and were not able to continue to match up defensively down the stretch.”

The game was much closer than the previous matchup between the teams, a 45-12 Halifax win, as sophomore Mason Pope kept the Lady Raiders within striking distance throughout. She tallied 15 points in the loss, while her sister, Avery, chipped in eight.

After the brief two-game slide, Southampton Academy was able to get back into the win column the next evening. Best exploded for a game-high 18 points and 8 rebounds, as the Lady Raiders topped Kenston Forest, 42-29.

A complete reverse from the night before, the Lady Raiders pressured the Kavaliers into early foul trouble and pulled away in the second half.

“We were able to make foul shots to extend our lead and put the game away,” Jeffrey Pope said.

Mason Pope scored 13 points and pulled down four offensive rebounds to compliment Best. Once she becomes the sole focus of the offense, however, her coach believes she could become something special.

“She’s had a drastic improvement from last year to this year,” he continued. “She’s be implementing different things in games, and if she keeps improving, I look for her to do well. I don’t want her to sit still, though.”

Most recently, Southampton Academy traveled to Chesterfield to play Richmond Christian. Unfortunately, Pope’s team ran into a buzz saw.

“We got it handed to us pretty well,” he said of his team’s 55-30 loss to the Warriors. “They have a girl (Morgan Batie) on their team who is as good as anybody I’ve ever seen in our conference.”

Batie caught fire early and dropped 21 points on Southampton Academy’s best defender, Mina Johnson.

“She doesn’t show up much in the box score because she’s not much of an offensive threat, but she’s great on the defensive end,” Pope said. “She just got into foul trouble and we had no answer for (Batie).”

Thus far, the Lady Raiders have complied a 9-8 record, 5-3 in the Virginia Commonwealth Conference, and a win tonight would match the team’s win total from a year ago. The game against Broadwater was scheduled for Jan. 26, but the Vikings had unspecified problems with travel. The game will tip at 7:30 p.m. in Courtland.