March 2, 2013 10:38:17 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
CLINTON -- The Starkville Academy girls basketball team closed the door Saturday in a most satisfying manner.
In the process, the Lady Volunteers completed another historic run and left a legacy for next season's team to carry on.
Maggie Proffitt scored a game-high 17 points, Sallie Kate Richardson added 12 points, and Nora Kathryn Carroll and her teammates delivered a solid defensive effort on Trista Magee in a 54-33 victory against Presbyterian Christian in the title game of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Association Overall State tournament at Mississippi College's A.E. Wood Coliseum.
Proffitt also had five rebounds, three assists, and two steals, while Richardson had seven rebounds, three assists, and four blocked shots. Anna Lea Little (six rebounds) and Tiffany Huddleston (10 rebounds, two assists, two steals) added nine points apiece, and Carroll had seven points and three rebounds to help Starkville Academy, the No. 6 team in The Clarion-Ledger's Super 10 poll, complete a 43-0 season. The run included the program's second consecutive Class AAA, District II, Class AAA, and overall state titles. The final act of the season saw Starkville Academy's starters named to the all-tournament team.
"I am so proud for the girls," said Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt, whose team is the first MAIS girls squad to repeat as overall state champions since 2002. "We really didn't talk about being undefeated. All we talked about was winning an overall state championship. They wanted to do it so badly. We start slow anyway sometimes, and they just kept their heads in there and they kept playing. They played their game. They played great defense against a really good offensive team."
The game Saturday resembled the teams' last meeting, a 40-37 victory by Starkville Academy last week at Jackson Academy, only in the first quarter. Presbyterian Christian (29-7) broke out to a 9-2 lead thanks to four baskets in the paint, including three on drives. Magee, the team's leading scorer, had one of them. But that basket at the 5-minute, 35-second mark was her easiest of the afternoon. On that play, Magee capitalized on the fact that Carroll gave her too much space because she was trying to prevent her from taking the ball to the basket. From that point, Carroll moved closer and did her best to deny Magee driving lanes.
"I had a lot of confidence in my teammates. They were always back there, and they have been all season," Carroll said. "I think I played well, pretty well."
Carroll's assessment of her performance was a step up considering a day earlier she said she played "pretty good" after hitting 6 of 8 3-pointers en route to tying for game-high scoring honors with 20 points. The game plan initially was to switch defensive looks on Magee. Schmidt said she wanted Carroll to give Magee space on one possession and get up tighter the next. Presbyterian Christian's fast start changed that thinking. Carroll responded by playing Magee closer the rest of the afternoon. She and the Lady Volunteers also forced the right-handed Magee to her left as often as possible.
"I have had to guard her every game we have played her," Carroll said. "I pretty much know some of her moves. I relied on the help, too, but I just had to step up and play as hard as I can on defense, too."
When Carroll needed help, teammates were right there to cut off the baseline or the middle of the paint. Richardson also took turns guarding Magee, who finished with 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting and committed five turnovers. The 11 points was the second-lowest total Magee had in four games against Starkville Academy this season. She had 20 last week in the semifinals of the Class AAA tournament. In that game, Starkville Academy rallied from a 33-21 deficit with a little more than five minutes remaining. It closed that victory with a 19-4 run thanks to full-court defensive pressure.
"I think our defense did it," Huddleston said. "We wanted to stop Trista Magee because we knew she was going to be driving hard in the lane. I got two charges called (on Magee), and I think that did a lot. Anybody getting a charge just gets people going. Once we stopped them on defense and slowed them down some, I think it helped our momentum on offense."
Starkville Academy didn't need the press Saturday.
An offensive rebound follow by Little, a 3-pointer by Carroll, a quick spin move into the middle by Richardson, and another trey by Huddleston from the top of the key ended the first quarter with a flurry. The defense did the rest, as the Lady Volunteers switched on screens, communicated, and took charges when they necessary. Magee, who finished with four fouls, was visibly frustrated with 2:18 to go in the third quarter after she missed a shot in the lane.
"When we got down in the first half, we knew we couldn't give up because it was the same way last week," Proffitt said. "We just kept fighting, and we knew we had to keep pushing.
"We knew Trista was a good player, and we knew we were going to have to help. We just came in thinking if we could stop her and close out on the outside shots that there wasn't much they would be able to do. I think that was one of the best defensive games we played all year. We were really able to shut (Magee) down and get the help. We caused a lot of turnovers (14) on walking and stuff. That really helped us win."
Little said it was a bonus playing Presbyterian Christian three times before Saturday. She said that experience helped the players understand Presbyterian Christian wanted to take the ball aggressively to the basket and that they needed to be there for each other to close the driving lanes.
"Our motto is all for one and one for all," Little said, "so we're all going to help each other as much as we can. We practice defense so much in practice we all know how to do it."
Still, without having a day to practice after Friday's victory, Starkville Academy's ability to hold Presbyterian Christian to 23.9 percent shooting (11 of 46) from the field made the program's second title -- and third overall for Schmidt -- even more special. Schmidt also won a state title at Starkville High School in 1992. For a coach who has watched her teams rally from double-digit deficits the past two seasons and play through varying levels of uneasiness, Schmidt said the latest performance left her "speechless." That she still managed a few accolades for the defense spoke to the quality of the Lady Volunteers' play on that end of the floor.
"The very basis of our defense is the help," Schmidt said. "We feel like we can go out and pressure because it is a foundation we try to build. We want to help and not lose our block out.
"They are a very good offensive team. People say Trista Magee is one of the most promising sophomores. She is not by herself. The point guard is very good. They have several offensive players who are a threat. No. 30 (Hannah McCarter) and No. 24 (Monica Breland) can score inside. When we played them a week ago Friday night people kept saying, 'Oh, you played so bad.' No. We held them to 37 points. We just played bad offense. We played good defense against them the last two times we played them."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.