There was a sense that late in the third quarter, with Wilson Memorial leading William Monroe by 10 points, that it wasn’t enough of a lead. That the Green Hornets might be in trouble.
William Monroe’s Sam Brunelle took over, scoring nine points to close the third quarter and 29 in the second half to lift the Dragons past Wilson 53-48 in the Play for Preemies Showcase at Western Albemarle Saturday night. Brunelle shook off a productive but less-than-desirable first half to get the Dragons back into it.
“When you have rough first halves like that, it’s going to happen to every player and it happened to me tonight obviously,” Brunelle said. “(Coach Jess Stafford) pulled me over right before we stepped on the court and she was like ‘you know yourself and I know that you’re capable of doing incredible things on the court and I believe in you and I know you’re going to take over the second half. That gave me a little extra motivation.”
Brunelle finished with 39 points, accounting for more than 73 percent of the Dragons’ offense without hitting a single 3-pointer while going 9-for-9 at the free throw line. Jenna Velasquez chipped in eight points and Iyanna Carey had five points.
The Dragons, before Brunelle got going, hadn’t found much of a rhythm against a scrappy Wilson Memorial squad that forced 14 first half turnovers. That defensive effort by the Hornets echoed what Fluvanna County did just before Christmas against the Dragons before Brunelle and Hailey Morris got going against the Flucos. This time Brunelle handled the vast majority of the scoring in the 20-3 rally that put Monroe in control on her own, with 23 rebounds that led to a number of putbacks or fouls that sent her to the line. She also hit a dizzying array of shots from all over the floor on the night. Including a drive and midrange jumper that included a behind-the-back dribble to end the first quarter.
“We’re a really young team, so you get a gut check, you get punched in the mouth,” said Monroe coach Jess Stafford. “The youth showed when they needed me to dig them out of that hole, but eventually where we want to get is them doing that themselves, but as far as how they responded to the coaching, couldn’t be more proud. They dug in deep, defended and didn’t get down on each other.”
It also helped that Wilson Memorial slowed down a touch offensively in the second half, though the Hornets still knocked down five 3-pointers after the break. They hit 12 as a team with Cheridan Hatfield’s 18 points and four 3-pointers leading the way, but Monroe managed to limit Wilson Memorial’s damage in the paint, with Katie Beale notching five rebounds to complement Brunelle’s Herculean effort on the boards.
“She’s the unsung hero of our defense,” Stafford said. “She’s the anchor and gets whoever is the other team’s best player and never gets a sub and never lets down. I have no idea where she gets her energy from.”
Beale and Monroe junior Lacey Beale have missed some practice in the last week due to the passing of their grandfather Sammy Beale, a longtime fixture on the local baseball scene.
“They’ve missed a little bit this week because of funeral stuff and practice even without them isn’t the same,” Stafford said. “The energy level they bring is unreal and (Katie) had a heck of a game.”
Both Beales are major sparkplugs for the Dragons and their return to the squad gave Monroe a jolt of energy, particularly on the defensive end.
“They’re our energy bunnies for sure and they’re just defensive stoppers,” Brunelle said. “You can trust them to guard the best offensive player on the opposing team and for them to always play well and get us stops is just amazing.”
The Dragons host Culpeper Tuesday as they jump into Northwestern District play.