‘She’s our energy burst’: Hawks’ Ajayi scores 20 as transition game thrives in blowout of Jets

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PITTSBORO — Whether it’s a movie, a book or a jelly-filled doughnut, the content-rich middle is always the best part.

In sports, it’s no different. Especially if you’re the Seaforth Hawks.

Seaforth’s women’s basketball team hosted the Jordan-Matthews Jets last Friday night, where the Hawks secured a dominant 71-28 victory that featured a lockdown start, an action-packed middle and a nice, comfortable finish.

The script called for a scalding hot start from the Hawks, an opening that saw Seaforth hop out to a 22-4 advantage by the end of the first eight-minute period.

But it’s nearly impossible to stay hot forever.

The Hawks narrowly won the second quarter, 11-9, to take a 20-point lead into the halftime break, thanks to a late 3-pointer by sophomore Hannah Ajayi that salvaged a fairly low-scoring period for Seaforth.

“When I went into the locker room, I told them that … I wanted us to pick it up to another level,” Charles Byrd, the Hawks’ first-year head coach, said following the win, “and play our basketball and worry about what we need to do.”

And, as has been the case in many games this season, Seaforth listened and came out scrapping in the third quarter.

The clearly motivated Hawks outscored the Jets, 19-11, in the third period where the Hawks’ owned the transition game, pulled away by nearly 30 points and solidified the victory.

The game’s rising and falling action — a J-M bounce-back followed by a Seaforth shut-down — was undoubtedly the most crucial aspect of the contest’s story. It was the jelly inside of an otherwise bland-tasting blowout.

“I think they just have a sense of urgency in the third quarter,” Byrd said. “I always stress when we come out of the locker room that the first couple of minutes of the third quarter are very important. That’s probably the most important part of the game. … That’s the time we really need to jump on teams.”

All season long, the Hawks have done just that: attacked teams in the third quarter.

In five of Seaforth’s six wins this season (data wasn’t available for the win vs. South Iredell), the Hawks have outscored their opponents by a whopping 56 combined points, 91-35.

Extending their lead in the third period — or in some cases, storming back to take the lead in the third — has been the Hawk’s bread and butter. It’s the key to all of their wins.

More often than not, if they win the third quarter, they win the game.

If not, they don’t. It’s (sort of) that simple.

Seaforth sophomore Tyshawn Davenport (0) attempts an acrobatic shot over a Jordan-Matthews defender in the Hawks' 70-61 overtime win over the Jets last Friday in Pittsboro. / Staff photo by Simon Barbre

Against the Jets, the Hawks’ third period — and second half as a whole — was defined by two things: interceptions and transition layups.

Gabby White, Seaforth’s star freshman guard, was the primary culprit, picking the ball off three times, all of which led to fastbreak layups.

In total, she had 11 of her 16 points in the third, including a deadly 3-pointer that capped off a larger 17-5 run that effectively grounded (and buried) the Jets with no hopes of taking off.

“We definitely practice playing in the passing lanes,” Byrd said. “We like to be really aggressive with our 2-3 zone, but (for Gabby) it’s also just natural instinct. She has really big hands and she’s a very athletic player.”

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the Jets turning the ball over 10 times while the Hawks, at times, looked like they were running layup drills mid-game.

Seaforth ran the floor quickly and effortlessly found open receivers down the court.

Even when the Hawks weren’t stepping in front of a pass or picking a ballhandlers’ pocket, they were able to get from coast to coast in the blink of an eye, paving the way for more transition buckets.

At one point, Ajayi — the Hawks’ leading scorer with 20 points on 64% shooting — went on a 6-0 run by herself consisting of nothing but transition layups. She scored 17 of her 20 points in the second half, all but 3 points coming from right underneath the basket.

“Hannah is very important to us, she’s our leader, she’s the oldest player on the team and she lives up to the moment every single game,” Byrd said of the sophomore. “She tries to be our heartbeat. She works really hard. She’s our energy burst.”

The Jets were led by senior guard Eillia Wright (12 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists), who was the only J-M player in double figures.

To open up the third period, Wright hit an and-one layup on the Jets’ first possession, but her energizing play was never able to swing the momentum in her team’s favor as the Hawks also forced her into a game-high nine turnovers.

Seaforth had four players in double figures against J-M, including Ajayi, White, freshman Peyton Collins (15 points), who scored nearly all of her points in Seaforth’s first-quarter scoring barrage, along with freshman Sydney Ballard, who posted a double-double in the win with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Fresh off of two straight losses in the North Iredell Christmas Classic a couple of weeks ago, the Hawks got back on track against the Jets, a win that propelled the team over .500 (6-5) for the first time since Dec. 28.

They’d go on to be routed by Northwood the next day, 63-33, for the second time this season, knocking their record back down to 6-6 as they struggled against the powerhouse Chargers.

But most importantly, Seaforth is 3-0 in the newly created Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference with wins over Bartlett Yancey, Cummings and J-M.

With the loss, the Jets fell to 4-8 on the season.

“It’s definitely been a learning process,” Byrd said. “But I think we can be one of the better teams in the conference if we stay focused and continue to do the little things we do.”

Due to exams, Seaforth won’t see the court again until Friday, when it faces the Graham Red Devils (3-7), while J-M’s next contest is against the Bartlett Yancey Buccaneers (2-5) on Jan. 18.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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