Another “G’day” – and night

Published 7:49 pm Saturday, December 13, 2014

WINDSOR – They called it an endowment game.  They should have named it an “empowerment” game.

For the second year in a row Bertie High School hosted an Australian amateur basketball unit – both girls and boys teams – in a pair of exhibition games as a show of international goodwill.  This time the event took place Thursday night at the gym at the new Bertie High School.

A year ago it was the Keystone Cougars, an Australian youth team from the Keysborough suburb of Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city.  This year’s team: School Sport Australia, is located in the suburb of Carleton.  They played eight games on their 19-day tour, four of them against teams in North Carolina. In addition, this group saw all phases of the Tarheel state from metropolitan Charlotte, mid-sized Wilmington and Thomasville, and finally to rural Windsor.

“We’ve seen it all here in Carolina, the whole range of the area”, joked Tour Leader Robin Brieiley, a sort of den-mother to this brood of some 20 teens. “There was the big city and now this new experience.  It’s giving these youngsters a chance to see the whole of America.”

The Australian teams basically consisted of All-Stars that hail from all parts of the land down-under in the 16-18 year old age range.  Some of the players, all of whom are either high-schoolers or junior college players, have used the tour as an audition with the result being a possible chance to play for a college team here in the States.

Prior to both games the teams exchanged goodwill gifts: The visitors giving their American counterparts sporting boomerangs and received T-shirts, caps, and maps of Bertie County in bright yellow Bojangles bags.

“I think we’ll always remember this,” said Brieiley, waving her day-glo bag.

Bertie’s generosity also extended to the gym floor, where thanks to more than a dozen turnovers and just as many steals and takeaways, the Lady Falcons fell behind early before succumbing to the ladies from Oz by a final of 83-44.

The game was only close in the opening quarter.   Jomiya Earley stroked a three-point shot that gave Bertie its only lead of the game at 7-6.  From there the Australian ladies scored 10 points in a row and the Lady Falcons never came closer than eight points the rest of the game.  Four Australian girls scored in double-figures led by cat-quick point guard Emily Suckling who finished the night with 18 points.   Bertie was led by team captain De’najah Porter with 10.

“These games are always a good teaching experience for the kids,” said veteran girls coach Alice Lyons. “It gets them ready for the playoffs.”

“It’s a great experience for these girls,” said Australian girls coach Steve Buttsworth with the Russell Crowe accent. “They get to play by American rules (in Australia a shot-clock is used in high school), get a first-hand look at the college recruiting experience and we just love coming here and playing.”

The boys game was much closer and much more physical.  Aussie sharp-shooting small forward Evan Fowler ended up being the difference in the game in more ways than one: he bombed away with six three-pointers and he also hit the game-winning shot with one second left for a 67-66 win, giving the Australians a sweep of the two games.  Fowler led all scorers with 27 points.

“That’s something we need to take home,” said Fowler, who resembled a younger version of another Australian: Hugh Jackman. “You guys never gave up and that’s a great spirit of the game.”

The game was tied eight times, five in the first half where neither team took a lead of more than three points.  Bertie trailed by two at halftime, 35-33.

The Australians began to pull away a bit in the third quarter, taking a lead of 11, 55-44,  just before the horn sounded.

But Bertie tenaciously clawed back into the game.  The Falcons opened the quarter on an 13-2 run and reclaimed the lead, 58-57, with four-and-a-half minutes left in the game.   From there, the game was tied twice more in the next minute and the Falcons took the lead by two, 64-62, at the 3:15 mark on a bucket by Tydre Lee.  Lee fouled out a minute later and the Aussies made one of two foul shots; but Bobby Askew got a big putback to up Bertie’s lead to three, 66-63, with just over a minute to play.  The Australians had fouls to give and used them to stop the clock.  When the Falcons got in the bonus Bertie had a chance to ice it with seven seconds left, but a missed one-and-one allowed SchoolSport to rebound the miss and to get off what proved to be the game-winning shot.

“That’s a big team and they’re well talented and well-coached, but I was worried more about my conference games,” said Bertie coach Kelvin Hayes. “But once we got into it, I knew we could compete with them. I don’t think we’ll face size like they had the rest of the year.”

Bertie got no time off to lick any wounds.  Both Falcon teams played on the road at Pasquotank Friday night.

The gift of the boomerang had other significance Thursday night:  maybe the teams, like the Australian throwing stick, will circle around and come back to Windsor.