FAYETTEVILLE – Alexus Hill has been the wise elder all season for Northern Nash, guiding a young Knights team at every turn without being asked.
It’s a quality Hill’s coaches love about her.
She told her teammates over and over that there would be a time when she wouldn’t be there to help them, so they had to learn now.
Unfortunately for Hill, that time came in her last game for Northern Nash – not after she graduated.
Hill was limited to 17 minutes and four points before fouling out, one of three Knights who were disqualified with five fouls.
“I know being the only senior on the team and the only person that (has) been in this position, I knew I needed to be on the floor to lead them through it, and tell them, ‘You gotta keep going, you gotta keep pushing,’” Hill said. “When I got in foul trouble, I felt in myself that I had let them down.”
Even with Hill in trouble, halftime felt great for Northern Nash.
West Craven star Jamie Cherry was dropping tons of points, but Northern Nash was OK with that because Cherry’s role players were held fairly quiet. Cherry had 18 first-half points, but Northern Nash went into the locker room tied at 24.
“I noticed that the rest of the team didn’t score very much, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Northern Nash coach Grover Battle said.
Hill and Suzie Sykes, Northern Nash’s two best shooters, each had three fouls, though the Knights were prepared to maneuver around the trouble.
As Battle discussed how to attack the foul trouble with one of his assistants, Hill was called for her fourth foul 39 seconds into the second half.
“That put us right back in the situation,” Battle said. “We were talking on the bench (if) we should take her out or keep her in until a little later in the third quarter, and before we could finish the conversation, there was another foul called.”
Hill made it her mission to teach her teammates, but it wasn’t the same for them with Hill on the bench and not on the floor.
“We had to adjust because we’re used to her being there for us,” said Knights forward Kiana Thomas, who had a double-double Wednesday. “She (has) taught us we have to learn to play without her.”
Northern Nash had made its push in the first half, but it couldn’t go any further without Hill leading it.
The Knights fell behind by 11 and had to play almost perfectly after that, an unwinnable proposition.
They tried a 1-2-2 zone, but that wasn’t the same without Hill, either.
“We switched to a 1-2-2 to try to matchup with them, and still (Cherry) pressed us on the inside and got the calls, and obviously that hurt,” Battle said. “That made us have to go to reserves to try to help us in that situation.”
Northern Nash wasn’t able to practice in the three days before the game because of weather cancellations, and while Battle said that had some bearing on the game, the foul trouble was worse.
“We got in foul trouble, and that hurt more than anything else did,” Battle said.
The Knights had dreams of winning a state championship, or at least playing for one, but a few calls changed everything.
2014 came to a close because of foul trouble.
“I kind of feel like, myself, that I let them down,” said a broken-hearted Hill.
Battle patted her on the back.
“It’s all right,” he repeated over and over. “You got us here.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com