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Basketball: Denmark downs Forsyth Central in region opener
Jessie DeNardo
Denmark junior Jessie DeNardo puts up a shot Thursday during the Danes' 56-50 win against Forsyth Central. - photo by David Roberts

Jaime Maxey can't help but imagine what kind of player Mary Kate Leonard will be by the time she's a senior.

Until then, she's content to watch her breakout freshman run up and down the court, making plays on both sides of the ball. 

Such was the case Thursday during Denmark's 56-50 win against Forsyth Central in the two teams' Region 6-7A opener.

In the first half, Leonard grabbed a defensive rebound and dished it to point guard Sophie Smith, who brought the ball up the court. Leonard followed the ball after the missed shot, fought for the offensive rebound, was fouled, then hit both free throws. 

She was pivotal in the final minutes of the game, hitting back-to-back layups to help the Danes turn a tied game into a 54-49 Denmark lead with 1:40 remaining.

All that from a freshman.

"That's just it — she's just a freshman," Maxey said. "It's hard for our ninth-graders, because we didn't get the summer and fall was cut short. They're really just being thrown into this. Every day is a learning experience for them. I mean, she's doing a great job. She's coming along."

Leonard scored 16 points — including 12 in the second half — while Smith finished with 24 points, including four 3-pointers.

Junior Jessie DeNardo gave up 5 inches to Central senior Elizabeth Pruitt but still managed to bring down 12 rebounds to help give the Danes second chances and limit the Bulldogs' opportunities.

Elizabeth Pruitt
Forsyth Central senior Elizabeth Pruitt drives toward the basket against Denmark junior Jessie DeNardo Thursday during the Danes' 56-50 win. - photo by David Roberts

DeNardo is averaging double-digit rebounds through her first four games of the season.

"Jessie is our hustle kid. She plays hard on both ends of the court," Maxey said. "Our first game, she had 19 rebounds, second game went out with 15, and she's 5-foot-7. She's doing a great job for us. She's always hustling. You couldn't ask for more."

Central (1-2, 0-1 Region 6-7A) played without UMass commit Aisha Dabo because of a knee injury. 

Dabo's absence allowed Denmark to swarm the post on defense and double Pruitt at times. A typically reliable scorer, Pruitt was held to six points and made just two shots from the field. 

Junior Jillian Bretz, meanwhile, took advantage of the opportunity and exploded for 21 points. She knocked down three 3-poitners, had five rebounds and stole a pair of passes.

The two teams played even for much of the game. It was tied 11-11 at the end of the first quarter, 25-25 at halftime, and Denmark led 40-38 entering the fourth quarter.

Denmark (3-1, 1-0 Region 6-7A) opened the second quarter on a 10-2 run behind a pair of 3-pointers by Smith. Bretz answered right back with a 3-pointer of her own, then minutes later, buried another that gave Central a brief two-point lead.

"We knew (Pruitt) is a great player. She's been playing very, very well for them," Maxey said. "Jillian's great also, so if we could take one of them away, we had a shot at competing in the game. Our girls did a great job of doing that. We took one of them away for the most part. That's not necessarily our style, but that's what we went with this week, and they all bought in and got the job done."