Thursday, January 30, 2014
Two games into the North Augusta girls’ basketball season, Mallory Stone’s senior year took an undesirable turn.
During a 54-25 win over C.A. Johnson in the Border Bash tournament at Midland Valley in which Stone scored 15 points, she went down with a painful knee bruise.
“Very tough, something that I wasn’t expecting,” Stone said.
The Jackets’ leader at both ends of the floor, Stone had to watch her team limp through the next three games, all double-digit losses. As much as Stone’s physical ability helps her team in tangible ways, it’s the intangible boost of her presence that head coach Crystal Cummings said was most vital for North Augusta (9-9, 4-0 Region 5-AAAA).
“They play with more confidence when she’s on the court,” Cummings said. “She just helps bring our confidence level to its highest point.”
Her first game back on Dec. 10 against Evans (Ga.) was another loss, this time 51-46, and Stone played limited minutes, scoring just three points. Cummings said she chose to ease Stone back into the rotation slowly based more on the speed of the game, more so than because of injury recovery.
Stone understood that line of thinking.
“It was kind of natural,” she said. “I just had to accept the fact that everything takes time.”
At that point, the Jackets were 1-5, but they’ve turned things around. As Stone has gotten more and more comfortable, the team has become more successful, winning its last four games – all Region 5-AAAA contests. Stone has scored 16 or more points in each of those games and accepts her responsibilities as one of the team’s captains and its leading scorer at 13.3 points per game.
“I am a leader, and that’s my role,” she said. “If they feel like they can’t do anything, they know I’ve got their back.”
That was more than evident in Friday’s 31-30 win over region foe Aiken.
After leading early, the Jackets trailed for a healthy portion of the game and were losing 21-20 early in the fourth quarter on the road. Stone had been active, but she had deferred a lot of shots to her teammates.
With that strategy not working, Stone took over, scoring the game’s next eight points to turn the one-point deficit into a seven-point lead. The Hornets answered, but Stone’s defense at the other end helped preserve the win for the Jackets.
Cummings said that she’s given Stone, who finished with 17 points in the victory, the freedom to snatch control of the game out of the Jackets’ offensive scheme.
“If she sees something she can create off that, she has the green light,” Cummings said.
Stone has aspirations of playing at the college level and has received interest ranging from South Carolina State of the NCAA Division I ranks to the NAIA’s Freed-Hardeman University. The senior recognized that she has work to do on her consistency and conditioning, and her mission for a potential college destination is two-fold.
“Of course, to get my degree and hopefully build my skill level of play,” she said.
Calling Stone a “basketball savant for her age,” Cummings said her team leader will be an asset to any coach for her ability to learn and play multiple positions.
“She has a good basketball IQ, and she’s teachable, so she’ll be able to do what the coach wants at the next level,” Cummings said.
North Augusta will next put its unbeaten region record on the line on Tuesday at Lexington.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.