Hawks lean on experience and new blood in first win of season

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PITTSBORO — The Seaforth girl’s basketball opened up its season with a home win Friday night.

Headlined by the return of sophomore guards Gabby White and Peyton Collins — who averaged 15 and 12 points per contest last season, respectively — Seaforth is aiming to surpass last year’s second-round appearance in the state playoffs. In the Hawks’ 61-38 win over Carrboro on Friday, White’s efficiency in transition and Collins’ touch from beyond the arc suggest such goals are well within the realm of possibility.

But for a squad that returns all of its production from last season, it was a new face that shined above the rest against Carrboro — first-year guard Katherine Leonard.

“She’s really just an all-round, aggressive and great player, which we really needed last year,” White said. “She takes a little bit of pressure off me and some other players that had to step it up last year.”

From the jump, a mental lapse defensively put the Hawks in a hole. White picked up two fouls in the first 63 seconds of play, prompting head coach Charles Byrd to sit the team captain.

As White sat on the bench, Seaforth’s offense went cold and the Jaguars opened up a four-point lead. With his team struggling to find a rhythm, Byrd knew something had to change.

So, the second-year head coach prompted White to walk up to the scorer’s table and check back in midway through the first quarter.

“(Byrd) just told me to relax, which really means a lot,” White said. “For him to put me back in the game shows a lot of trust from him, which really makes me feel good.”

Now back in the game, White’s presence was immediately felt. She maneuvered her way through Carrboro’s defense to finish two layups, tying the tilt at end of the first period.

In between quarters, Byrd altered his game plan as he looked to compliment White’s newfound presence with Seaforth’s defensive capabilities. Out of the brief stoppage, the Hawks extended their two-three zone past the 3-point arc and fronted passing lanes.

“There was a lot of emphasis on moving your feet and having your hands out wide to cut off passing angles,” Leonard said. “We noticed as we pressed them, they got nervous so we just kept doing it.”

The Jaguars’ discomfort resulted in a number of Seaforth steals, allowing White to get out in transition. In the fast break, the sophomore guard displayed her full arsenal, navigating lanes to the hop and kicking out to open teammates for 3-point baskets.

“Transition is really where I like to play,” White said. “I know when to pass and when to shoot. It’s just how I play — it’s really easy for me.”

One of the beneficiaries of White’s selfless play was Leonard, who canned the Hawk’s first 3-pointer of the season after a transition opportunity found the first-year guard open in the corner. Even when White took a rest, Seaforth’s fast break remained potent with Leonard leading the charge. By the end of the second quarter, the Hawks had opened up a 28-11 lead.

The second half mirrored the same play seen in the first 30 minutes of action. White dazzled her way to a 15-point double-double and Collins’ team-high 16 points featured a pair of second-half makes from distance. Simply put, the Hawks’ returning cast replicated performances Bryd and his staff have come to expect.

However, the difference that allowed Seaforth to pull away from Carrboro was Leonard.

No, she wasn’t the leading scorer against the Jaguars, nor did she make the flashiest of plays. But her confidence — seen both as the primary ball handler and spotting up from long range — suggests the young guard is primed to build off her 12-point performance.

For assistant coach Antonio Hayes, he knows the team’s newest addition might be the missing piece the Hawks need to propel them to new heights this year.

“(Leonard’s) just an extra point guard and someone that’s very talented,” he said. “She gives us another level of poise.”

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