Highland Springs girls basketball is a young team. Two freshmen start, including star point guard Jada Walker, and two other freshmen get significant playing time.
The No. 2 Springers also start one senior, and she’s the player coach Franklin Harris embraced after his team beat No. 4 L.C. Bird 56-41 and captured the Class 5, Region B title on Friday at Meadowbrook High School.
Harris wrapped his arms around AZ Bacot, his 6-foot senior forward, and spoke into her ear after she accepted the region trophy for her team.
“I don’t know what I said to her,” Harris said. The moment was emotional.
Bacot remembered Harris’ message being about taking care of business. The senior knows a thing or two about playing in the state tournament, in which the Springers (21-3) earned home-court advantage with their win.
Highland Springs has reached the Class 5 state final in two of Bacot’s three seasons. Both times, the Springers lost to Princess Anne.
Bacot helped her team take a step in that direction on Friday. She scored 6 points, grabbed lots of rebounds and hustled to win many 50-50 balls. Harris defined Bacot’s role as just that — a force in the paint offensively, a long defender on defense and someone who will set the right tone with her effort.
Her defensive play was especially critical against the Skyhawks (18-6). The Springers used a 1-3-1 scheme on defense, which assistant coach Angee Booker implemented this season. Bacot plays at the top of the key, typically shadowing the point guard and using her length to swat passes and create turnovers.
“With that defense, our quickness is something that I thought could benefit us,” Booker said. “AZ is big, and it makes it very hard for the ball to get passed back and forth.”
Bacot said she hasn’t played at the top of the key for most of the season, but a few weeks ago she went to Booker with the idea of her new role. Booker trusted her, Bacot said, and the change has worked out nicely.
It held the Skyhawks at bay, especially standout juniors Jaden Watkins and Mya Coleman. Watkins scored 11 points and Coleman had 12. Both were forced into tough shots and turnovers throughout the game. Kameron Brown led Bird with 14 points and four 3-pointers.
The blowout win didn’t come just from Bacot’s play. Walker added 20 points, close to her average, and four other players scored at least 5 points. Walker and junior Paris McBride are both quick guards with great defensive anticipation, which complements Bacot’s role in the 1-3-1.
If Bacot and Highland Springs meet Princess Anne again, this time the Springers are equipped with their new-look defense, designed to limit 3-point shots and beat teams such as Bird and Princess Anne, Booker said.
“That defense is great,” Bacot said. “I think we’re actually prepared.”