February 28, 2013 9:53:01 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
CLINTON -- When the Starkville Academy girls basketball team received a wake-up call during the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA State tournament last week, the Lady Volunteers didn't hit the snooze button.
Starkville Academy responded from a close victory against Presbyterian Christian with one of its best efforts of the season in a victory against Madison-Ridgeland Academy to capture the tournament's championship.
Well rested and ready to go, Starkville Academy may have even done one better Wednesday afternoon in a 71-29 victory against Prairie View Academy in the quarterfinals of the MAIS Overall State tournament played at Mississippi Colleges' A.E. Wood Coliseum.
"Playing the (Presbyterian Christian) game (a 40-37 semifinal victory) was a good thing," Starkville Academy senior Tiffany Huddleston said. "I wish it had come earlier in the year. It was a good wake-up call. Even though we knew it, it was a reminder we could not go out there ready to play and expect to win."
The Lady Volunteers (41-0) were ready and then some Wednesday. Starkville Academy had a stretch where it hit 7 of 8 3-pointers in the first quarter. It scored 31 points before committing a turnover.
"I think (Prairie View) underestimated our shooting ability," Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt said. "When our girls see a zone, their eyes light up. That means we are going to come out shooting. When the other team leaves you wide open and you make shots, it fires you up rather quickly."
Any defense the Lady Spartans tried proved futile. Starkville Academy led was 4-0 15 seconds in. It was 10-2 at the first time out. Three 3-pointers later, it was 22-2. When the quarter ended, it was 33-6. The Lady Volunteers were 13 of 18 from the field with one turnover in the first eight minutes.
"They were leaving the wings wide open and we were not used to it," Starkville Academy senior Nora Kathryn Carroll said. "Most teams play man mainly. We knew we had to step up and play our game. We were really focused on this game. We wanted to jump out there and get on them fast."
With doubt already removed, the Lady Volunteers opened the second quarter with a 14-1 run. With a 49-14 halftime score, the second half was played with a running clock. The game finished 48 minutes.
"We knew we had to win to advance," Huddleston said. "From the beginning of the season, our goal was to get to this point. We knew we had to play with a good level of intensity and take care of business."
A season ago, Starkville Academy earned the rare distinction of winning the Class AAA, Division II title, the Class AAA crown, and the overall championship. This season, the Lady Volunteers are two-thirds toward a repeat.
"With three seniors and two juniors, I think playing down here last year was a huge advantage for us," Schmidt said. "The girls knew what to expect in this environment. We told them before the game we had to match the intensity of whoever we were playing or even exceed it. There is no question we did that today."
Maggie Proffitt led Starkville Academy with 19 points. She also had four rebounds. Janiece Pigg added 12 points and five rebounds off the bench. Anna Lea Little had 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals, Tiffany Huddleston had nine points, three rebounds, three steals, and two assists, Carroll had nine points and seven assists, Sallie Kate Richardson had eight points, seven rebounds, and five assists, and Hannah Huddleston had six rebounds and three steals.
Now, the task turns harder. Starkville Academy will face Bowling Green at 1 p.m. Friday in the semifinal s. When the teams met Oct. 30, 2012, Starkville Academy took a 51-46 victory, which is Bowling Green's only loss.
Last season, Starkville Academy eliminated Bowling Green in the overall state tournament.
"We were fortunate we got to rest some today during the game," Schmidt said. "Playing Wednesday instead of Tuesday helped us as well. We got another day of practice and another day of shooting in. Playing Wednesday allowed us to have our legs.
"We will need all of those things Friday because everything gets harder from here. We had an all-out effort today with everybody hustling and everybody playing defense."
With two more victories needed to complete a third championship and a perfect season, the Lady Volunteers are prepared to make the final push.
"We are so ready," Carroll said. "When you get here, you want to be playing your best. We did that today."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter