WARNER ROBINS -- Jenny Manning expects some growing pains from her sophomores who are gaining playing time for the first time.
But the Bleckley County head coach watched as her veteran players struggled for much of the first half Friday against Peach County in the opening round of the Bear Brawl.
“It wasn’t just the young ones,” said Manning, who led the Royals to the quarterfinals a year ago. “We were a mess.”
The Royals (5-1) emerged from halftime with a little different energy and aggressiveness on the way to a 66-59 win over the Trojans, who got 40 points from talented sophomore Nausia Woolfolk.
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A swarming defense helped the Royals create turnovers and turn a two-point halftime deficit into a lead very quickly in the third quarter.
Bleckley County opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run -- which was part of a larger 18-4 run that began in the second quarter -- to lead by five. Peach County (5-2) tied the game at 36, but the Royals led the rest of the way.
After the Trojans pulled to within two early in the fourth quarter, the Royals answered with seven consecutive points and eventually stretched the lead to 11 midway through the quarter. Peach County never got closer than seven during the final four minutes of the game.
“We hope these games pay off when region play begins,” Manning said.
The Royals pressured Woolfolk the entire night, forcing the sophomore to spin out of double teams and to give up the ball to her teammates. The Royals knew they couldn’t silence Woolfolk -- and they certainly didn’t do that -- but they hoped they could at least frustrate her.
“We won’t see anyone else like her,” Manning said. “I hope not.”
Peach County led for most of the first half, with Woolfolk scoring 16 of the Trojans’ 20 in the first quarter. She connected on a pair of deep 3-pointers, while doing much of her damage attacking the basket just a few days after she scored 52 points against Henry County.
But the Royals closed the first half on a 9-2 run to cut the Peach County lead to 29-27 entering the half.
“I think we just played lazy in the first half,” said Bleckley County’s Tia Troup, who scored 18.