By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — Coach Alexus Parker said she enjoyed her return to St. Andrew’s on Friday night. Seeing her South Effingham Mustangs fight through early adversity made the visit even sweeter.
The Mustangs scored a season-low five points in the first quarter but roared back against the Lions, Parker’s former team, for a 54-28 victory.
And the weekend just kept getting better. SEHS found ways to overcome more adversity — a key player with four fouls and a halftime deficit — before pulling away from the Islands High School Sharks 49-34 on Saturday.
“The biggest thing with the girls is I want them to compete,” Parker said. “I want them to battle to the last whistle, stay together, be coachable and execute. They’re buying in and that’s where our success is coming from.”
After winning just seven games last season, SEHS is already 5-2 with only a pair of one-point losses to Beach and Dougherty scarring the first three weeks of the season.
Parker coached at St. Andrew’s last season.
“There were familiar faces and a great environment,” Parker said. “Their girls came out really competitive. It was an amazing game.”
In both games over the weekend, SEHS girls displayed offensive balance. Different girls took turns leading.
Against St. Andrew’s, Za’Kerria Hall had 12 of her team-high 14 points in the second half.
The next night against Islands, Hall picked up her fourth foul with three seconds left in the first half. The Mustangs were outscored 10-2 in the second quarter and fell behind 23-19.
Making matters worse, Hall seemed to be the only SEHS player who could match up with Islands’ high-scoring Veronica Sierzant, a 6-foot-1 junior who is among the best players in Savannah.
But Parker drew up a defense to front Sierzant. Mustang point guard Elena Hairston, held scoreless in the first half, had seven points in the third quarter.
Paris Kelley and Kay’mar Griffin continued their steady offensive output and finished with 14 points apiece.
Laney Dobbs had 11 points, including a key 3-pointer which began a 14-2 run after Sierzant fouled out.
Unlike the girls, the SEHS boys couldn’t find multiple players to step up in crunch time and lost two more close games — 57-54 against St. Andrew’s and 56-52 against Islands.
The Mustangs’ record slipped to 1-5 with four defeats by four points or fewer.
“We’re missing free throws, not taking care of the ball and letting people stay in the game when we have a chance of putting them away,” SEHS coach Rico Campbell said. “We’ve been our own worst enemy.”
Against Islands, SEHS led by eight (19-11) in the first half and was clinging to a 48-46 lead with 1:54 left after a 3-pointer by Andrew Butler, but the Sharks made more plays down the stretch.
Butler led the Mustangs with 17 points. Justice Mydell added 13.