Southern girls basketball coach Linda Kilpatrick was besieged with freshmen during November tryouts, and gratefully so.
Having lost six of her top seven players from last season, the veteran coach soughthelp from a field of 17 newcomers.
She wound up retaining four on the varsity -- the most ever in her 14 years at the Harwood school -- and sent the rest down to the junior varsity for further grooming.
"I decided to keep four on the varsity to work on the future," she said.
For Laekeka Wesley, the future is now.
The 5-foot-11 freshman center scored seven points yesterday, grabbed 21 rebounds and made five steals in a 51-44 loss to host North County.
Wesley, 15, entered the game averaging nearly 11 points and 13 rebounds. She leads the team both in scoring and rebounding and is a key reason Southern has gone 5-4, despite being at what Kilpatrick considers a rebuilding stage.
The thinly built Wesley said she was surprised by her early success, adding, "I'm just taking my time and listening to the coach."
Kilpatrick said, "I was really kind of worried at the beginning of the season that it would take her a little longer to understand our defense, the press, that typeof thing. She's done a real good job of picking all that up. She's really worked hard."
Her work, and that of junior teammate Talaya Barnett, who posted a game-high 22 points, weren't enough to upset North County (8-3).
The Knights never trailed after Renita Johnson (13 points, 15 rebounds) sank a jumper midway through the first quarterthat put them ahead, 7-5. They scored the last six points of the first half to lead, 27-16, and appeared on the verge of blowing the gameopen after Southern forward Lindee Sisk went down with an injury to her right ankle less than a minute into the third quarter.
Sisk, one of three juniors in the starting lineup, had to be carried off thefloor and spent the remainder of the game with the ankle heavily taped and elevated on the Southern bench.
Kilpatrick did not know theseverity of the injury afterward.
"It doesn't look good," she said.
Neither did Southern's chances for a victory, especially after freshman guard Kari Sherbert fouled out late in the third quarter, leaving Kilpatrick with only two reserves.
But the Bulldogs went on a 12-4 run after Sisk departed, to pull within five points, 35-30, with 1 minute, 26 seconds left in the third quarter. They were within six points twice in the final quarter, but could not overtake the Knights.
North County's Kim Miller, a senior center who went over 1,000 points for her career last week, was slowed by the flu, but still managed 17 points and eight rebounds. Reserve Lisa Betz added six points.
Sisk and junior guard Kim Smith had seven points each in a losing cause. Smith also grabbed nine rebounds.
"They did an outstanding job," Kilpatrick said of her young players. "If we just could have gotten a few more of those shots to fall, it would have been an even closer game."
It was close enough for North County coach Sally Entsminger, whose team shot 21-of-62 (33.8 percent) from the floor andcommitted 27 turnovers.
"It's discouraging when you miss shots you should be making," she said. "We had six or eight points inside that could have buried them, but we missed them. And we made careless turnovers.
"In spurts, we played pretty well. I think we played muchbetter in the second half than the first. We moved the ball better offensively. We just need to put the ball in the basket more consistently."