By Becky Kimbrell-Norris
WAKE FOREST— The Franklin Academy girls basketball team almost blew a seven-point lead over visiting Durham Flight, but held on by making four of four free throws in the last eight seconds to secure a 56-50 win Monday night.
Senior Catie Keel and Amelia Huffman, a junior, both sank two foul shots to keep the Patriots undefeated this season at 4-0.
It was the first loss for Durham Flight, 10-1, a homeschooled team.
“We’ve focused a lot in practice on finishing well,” said Franklin Academy coach Erin Thornton. “That concept includes several things but one of the major points is making our free throws.”
“We struggled greatly with free throws last year and have seemed to make an improvement so far this season” Thornton added. “This was a good win for us but in the victory we still see things that have room for improvement.”
Franklin Academy scored the first four points of the game but Durham Flight jumped out to a 16-11 lead at the end of the first quarter after missing just four shots and hitting three- three point baskets.
“They are a very good and talented basketball team,” Thornton said. “We had scouted them a bit but we didn’t know as much as we would have liked about them.”
“They were the best shooting team we have seen this year,” she added.
The visitors continued to stay in front of the Patriots in the second quarter on transition baskets and a three point bucket by Keel pulled Franklin Academy within one point at 19-18.
Huffman scored four of her 16 points at the end of the first half and the Patriots trailed Durham Flight 24-23 at the break.
Thornton said she made a few early adjustments to guard Durham Flight’s best player, Rebecca Lobach, who led all scorers with 23 points on seven of 13 shooting.
“We went into a box-in-one with McKenzie Goodwine guarding her,” Thornton said. “That helped us keep Lobach in check.”
At halftime, Thornton said she talked to her team about being more diligent to box out and to finish their free throws.
It was the first game since November 14 for Franklin Academy, which had been on a school break and it showed as they tried to get their game going.
“I wasn’t happy about having that much time off in between games, but it was the hand we were dealt and we had to overcome it,” Thornton said. “It took us a couple of quarters before we got into a rhythm.”
Thornton said she thought her team played a very good game in the second half.
“The first half we struggled with our rebounding and rotation on defense,” she said. “We also had 11 turnovers, which hurt us.”
“In the second half our offense and defense was much stronger,” Thornton added. “We cut the turnovers down and were able to get some huge rebounds on both offense and defense to put us in the lead.”
A basket by Olivia Cooper on an assist from Goodwine tied the score at 25-all in the third quarter and Jessica Graham came off the bench to score a basket, which knotted the score at 28-28.
“Jessica played a very good game,” Thornton said. “She was committed during our break and stayed after practice every day to work on her footwork and shooting.”
“She came off the bench with a lot of confidence and was able to hit a big shot and get to the free throw line,” Thornton added.
The Patriots then changed tactics and went on an 8-1 run in the third quarter. After committing two back to back turnovers Goodwine scored and Keel stole the ball and raced down court to hit a layup, giving Franklin Academy a 32-28 lead.
Cooper sank a pair of free throws and Goodwine hit a jumper and the Patriots held a 36-31 lead, heading into the fourth quarter.
To their credit, Franklin Academy started cranking up their defensive full court pressure, making it harder for Durham Flight to get the ball inside.
“I definitely think our defense was a key,” Thornton said. “In the second half, we began to press them full court and it seemed to give them some trouble but definitely helped ignite our offense. We started playing tough both physically and mentally and we were able to bring down some key rebounds.”
“I was proud of our defensive energy we had in the fourth quarter,” Thornton went on to say. “The girls were quick and very active and that in turn led to many points on offense.”
Durham Flight threatened a couple of times, pulling within two points of the Patriots, including 52-50 after connecting on three free throws after getting fouled on a three point basket with 15 seconds left in the game.
Huffman also led the Patriots in steals with five. Brianne Henderson had a double-double with 11 points and was the Patriots leading rebounder with 11.
Cooper tallied ten points while Goodwine contributed nine points, six assists and four steals.
Franklin Academy will host Woods Charter in their first North Central Athletic Conference game tomorrow (Friday) at 6 p.m.