ROYAL SURGE

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Eastern Hancock’s girls basketball team is just scratching at the surface of what could be a well-balanced offensive machine capable of scoring from everywhere on the court.

And the defense? It’s still a work in progress. But first-year head coach Shari Doud can’t complain much. Her Royals are off to a 3-0 start and are showing signs of what could be a promising season in Charlottesville.

After claiming a 41-32 road win against Hagerstown to begin the season, Eastern Hancock rolled through Elwood 63-42 and Centerville 36-21. In those three wins, 10 Royals scored a basket, with five averaging at least five points per game. Even more impressive, five girls hit at least one 3-point shot.

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Case in point: Eastern Hancock should have no problem putting the ball in the basket.

And with Doud’s defensive approach, the Royals are allowing a mere 31 points per contest, which ranks 31st in the state in all classes. Not a bad opening first week after getting a late start with the team this summer.

“In the past, I’ve been a defensive-minded coach,” Doud said, who earned her 200th career win in the season opener. “Offensively, I like that patience and diligence out of a team, too. I’m a read-and-react coach. You take what they give you.

“They are really coming around and getting very scrappy.”

Senior guard Hope Spaulding, one of three Royals averaging at least eight points per game, said Doud’s approach was “different but a good different” in the beginning, which in reality was just months ago.

“It’s been a challenge, but we are finally starting to mesh with her style of play,” she said. “Each day, we take one step at a time.”

Spaulding is just beginning to heat up. She nailed three bombs from deep in the win against Elwood and finished with a season-high 13 points. In 2014, Spaulding averaged 8.1 ppg while knocking in a team-high 28 3-pointers.

“One thing I’ve tried to do a better job of is being confident in myself,” Spaulding said. “If something doesn’t go my way, I let it go and move on.”

Leading the way offensively this season, however, is a name maybe not so familiar in the scoring column — junior Peyton West, who is pouring in 11.3 ppg from her post. She had a season-high 18 points against Elwood and is finishing strong around the basket, according to Doud. In 2014, the then-sophomore tallied just 4.3 ppg.

West has benefited from opposing team’s playing zone defenses and has been aided by her teammate’s willingness to share the basketball. Eastern Hancock is currently averaging close to 10 assists per game (28 assists on 56 made baskets).

“We share the ball so well,” Doud said. “She’s (West) strong and knows how to get herself in a position to score. She’s done a great job of finding the openings (in the zone). She probably leads us in minutes played as well.”

It’s a small sample size and Doud knows that. She sees the potential, though, noting how eager the girls are to learn and adapt.

Their next big test? Class 3A Indian Creek (4-1) on Nov. 28, which is receiving votes in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll. The Braves should present a solid early-season challenge on both ends of the floor.

“They are one of the toughest teams on our schedule,” Doud said. “It should be interesting to truly see where we stand.”

Also adding a large contribution to the team this season is freshman Haley Best, who has been a sparkplug off the bench for an already explosive offense. She is second on the team with 8.3 ppg and has hit two 3-pointers in every game this season.

“She is an extremely skilled basketball player,” Doud said. “She is very quick off the dribble, and she’s an outstanding ball distributor. She just has a complete game.

“The first person off the bench is huge. Shelby King is another one who has done well at that.”

Juniors Kaysi Gilbert (3.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Leah Ferguson (5.0 ppg, 2.7 spg) and Emily Carlton (4.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg), all of which started last season, are slowly coming into their own in the new system, giving Eastern Hancock six scorers capable of reaching double digits.

“We are going to be a very difficult team for oppositions to zone in on one kid,” Doud said. “We have so much scoring punch.”

Doud would like to see improvement in two specific areas moving forward, however. The Royals will host Sectional 42 at season’s end, and the veteran leader knows a showdown with the No. 2 team in the state, Triton Central, could be possible.

“I want to improve on our ability to move our feet and not reach so much,” she said. “We’ve accumulated a lot of fouls this season. That and better decision making with the ball.

“But it’s early, their learning me, and I’m still learning them.”

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or kmills@greenfieldreporter.com.