December 22, 2012 10:48:07 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
If the Starkville Academy girls basketball team can handle the rest of the season like the past three days, the rest of the state is in for quite a show.
Starkville Academy weathered the injury to a key bench player Thursday and then learned the father of one of its players died. It kept its composure Friday in a victory and delivered another dominating display Saturday to cap its run.
Maggie Proffitt had 26 points to lead four players in double figures Saturday to lead Starkville Academy to an 80-56 victory against Provine High School in the Joe Horne Christmas Invitational at Columbus High.
Nora Kathryn Carroll (14 points), Sallie Kate Richardson (13), and Tiffany Huddleston (12) also scored in double figures, while Anna Lea Little (nine points, 10 rebounds) also had key contributions to push the Lady Volunteers to 17-0.
On Friday, Starkville Academy, the defending Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA and overall state champion, rolled to a 75-31 victory against Noxubee County. The victory was Starkville Academy's fourth of the season against Mississippi High School Activities Association competition. It also has victories against Class 2A defending state champion New Site and Class 4A Itawamba Agricultural. Provine is a Class 5A school.
The original matchups for the 16th annual Joe Horne Christmas Invitational had Starkville Academy playing Columbus, but that game was changed to pit Starkville against Starkville Academy. Earlier this month, Center Hill replaced Starkville, only to have Provine move into the spot in the final few days.
Regardless of the opponent, Starkville Academy showed Friday and Saturday it can be difficult to stop. It had 19 assists and 18 steals against Noxubee County and added 18 assists and 11 more steals against Provine.
On Friday, the defense shined, as the Lady Volunteers used their quickness and anticipation to step into passing lanes. The defensive pressure and positioning is a staple for veteran coach Glenn Schmidt. Those qualities helped Starkville Academy build a 27-5 lead after one quarter and a 49-16 halftime lead.
"Your foundation is built on defense and rebounding," Schmidt said. "We have been playing man-to-man defense for so long that they know it and we only have to tweak it from time to time depending on who we are playing. We have been able to get out and put a lot of pressure on the ballhandler. Huddleston is able to do that. Carroll can do that. Proffitt can do that. When we go out and put a lot of pressure on the guards, it sets a tone for what is happening for us. We do a lot of rotating and switching, which keeps us going."
On Saturday, the Lady Volunteers showcased their ability to share. After Provine cut the deficit to 39-29 with 6 minutes, 20 seconds to go in the third quarter, Starkville Academy used a 23-6 run to close the quarter to break the game open. It had assists on six of its nine baskets (two free throws) in that span, including three 3-pointers from three players.
"We got to play some good competition today," Huddleston said. "The first half was a little odd, but it was something we had to adjust to."
In the second quarter, Starkville Academy was 14 of 18 from the free-throw line, while Provine was 8 of 12.
Huddleston (five assists, two rebounds) had eight points in the third-quarter run that erased any doubt about the outcome. She varied her scoring on layups and jump shots and also got into the action by handing out assists when the Lady Volunteers were able to push tempo. Her assist on Carroll's 3-pointer made it 62-35.
"It has been a lot of adjustments the past three days on the court and off the court," Huddleston said. "A lot of it, for Janiece, at least, as being out here and taking our minds off things. The game was something we used to take our minds off things."
Pigg had five points and two rebounds against Provine.
Proffitt, a 5-foot-9 senior transfer from Columbus High, scored 14 of her points in the first quarter, including the team's first 10 points. She said the team's experience (three seniors, three juniors) helped it overcome the loss of sophomore Anna McKell to a collarbone injury Thursday in a 57-20 victory against Pillow Academy. She said the players also were able to keep their poise after the death of Jason Pigg, 52, the father of sophomore center Janiece Pigg. Jason Pigg died Thursday.
Starkville Academy showed its support for Pigg and her family Saturday by attending Jason Pigg's funeral before traveling to Columbus to play its third game in three days.
"There were definitely some bumps in the road, but we knew we had to persevere and keep playing and play our hardest," said Proffitt, who also had three assists, three steals, and two rebounds. "We knew it was going to be hard playing three games in a row. Coach Schmidt encouraged us to play hard, and we got the job done in the end.
"We were all together as a family. I know we helped Janiece cope with the loss of her dad. We went to see Anna before the game. It was good all being together, and we all knew we were all in it together as one."
Huddleston said it has been easy to continue that trend this season. A year ago, Starkville Academy completed a sweep of the district, classification, and overall titles thanks in part to five seniors. This season, the addition of Proffitt has given the Lady Volunteers another experienced player who can handle the ball, is comfortable sharing it, and can play inside or outside.
Huddleston, who played a key role last season as a point guard with Anna Prestridge, said the 2012-13 squad also finds making the extra pass something that comes naturally.
"Now that we're getting into the season, we're learning how to play with her and she is learning how to play with us," Huddleston said. "Coach Schmidt always tells us in drills and in practice to look for the next pass. That way you're constantly thinking that Maggie or Anna Lea is out open on the outside and to be aware what might be open on the outside."
Schmidt admitted after the game she was concerned if the team would be able to handle playing three games in three days. The weight of McKell's injury and the death of Jason Pigg was "emotionally draining," according to Schmidt. She said it was inspiring, though, because the team wanted to play for their teammates and the Pigg family.
"As the game went on, we seemed to pick up a little bit, especially at the beginning of the third quarter," Schmidt said. "I thought we were flat because we fouled too much and we didn't rebound. Fortunately, we were able to score with them.
"I thought we did an excellent job (of sharing the basketball), especially when we had to. We never really got out of our game. We just were sluggish."
If either performance was "sluggish," the rest of the state doesn't want to see Starkville Academy clicking on all cylinders.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.