November 26, 2013 10:36:09 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Starkville Academy boys basketball coach Mark Alexander made a slight change in philosophy Monday.
The Volunteers rewarded him with the best effort of the season.
An extended zone proved key as Starkville Academy defeated Oak Hill Academy 40-35 at the Starkville Academy Gym.
"This was the best game we have played all season," Starkville Academy senior Bradley Weseli said. "Hopefully, this shows we are turning the corner. We have had trouble playing a complete game for four quarters. We finally did that today, and it feels good."
Oak Hill Academy won a close decision a couple of weeks ago in West Point. Alexander felt a change in defensive philosophy would be the key to winning the rematch. Instead of the usual man-to-man defense, the Volunteers shifted to an extended zone.
"That was the difference," Alexander said. "Oak Hill has some great outside shooters. We went to the extended zone and dared their outside shooters to make shots. Fortunately, they had more misses than makes.
"We played our best game of the year easily. But the biggest reason was the success we had on the defensive end and the emergence of Raheim Robinson on the offensive end."
Robinson led the Volunteers (3-2) with 18 points and made critical shot after critical shot. The athletic senior also hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 41 seconds to seal the victory.
"We have been waiting for a player to step up," Weseli said. "Last year, it seemed like we always had two or three guys that would step up at the end of the game. We have not had that this year. It's like we wait around and hope that somebody leads.
"This was my best game of the year (eight points, nine rebounds) and then Raheim was just incredible. He carried us in the fourth quarter."
Starkville Academy won numerous close games last season with deadly precision in the fourth quarter. Alexander still isn't sure if this team has that type of mental makeup. However, he thought Monday's win was a huge step in that direction.
The Volunteers trailed by a point at the end of each of the first three quarters. Their largest lead of the game came at the end.
"Raheim has only played organized basketball for a couple of years," Alexander said. "He has so much natural athletic ability that the sky is the limit for his game. We are getting him into the flow of things, and he seems like his game gets better and better each game."
Better flow is what Oak Hill Academy coach Brian Middleton wanted to see.
"Starkville Academy completed controlled the tempo of the game," Middleton said. "We like to be in the 50s and 60s. The first game we won because it was played with our style. We just allowed them to completely dictate the game.
"We had some offensive possessions where we took close to a minute off before taking a shot and that is not our offense. We need to go. For whatever reason, we didn't go in this game."
Junior Riley Pierce led the Raiders (4-3) with 10 points.
Starkville Academy girls 64, Oak Hill Academy 49
In the opener, the Lady Volunteers completed the regular-season sweep with a hard-earned victory.
The Lady Raiders (4-5) trailed by six points early in the fourth quarter.
Starkville Academy senior Sallie Kate Richardson then took care of that, scoring 15 of her game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter.
"She was something," Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt said. "Talking about totally taking a game over."
Oak Hill Academy coach Stan Hughey also learned some valuable lessons when the teams met two weeks ago.
"We really thought we had a defensive game plan," Hughey said. "Sallie Kate blew apart any plan we had. We tried a couple of different things, but we could not match her raw athleticism. She got whatever she wanted there in the fourth quarter."
Oak Hill Academy led 12-11 before Starkville Academy ended the first quarter and began the second quarter with 14 straight points.
For Oak Hill Academy, starter Megan Fair went down with an ankle injury in the first quarter and Macie Allen went down with a knee injury in the second quarter. Both sat on the bench and iced their injuries for the remainder of the game. Three early fouls on Sarah Dill also sent her to the bench. The Lady Raiders patched together a lineup while the Lady Volunteers assembled their game-decisive run.
"We had some girls really step up tonight," Hughey said. "Lexi Harden is a senior who has not played a lot. She played the best she has played. We got some good minutes from (Anna Grace) Hemphill. We really played well to be down some players.
"Every time we got close, it was too much Sallie Kate. Between she and Nora Kathryn Carroll, we really have a hard time guarding both of them."
Richardson also had 14 rebounds, three steals, and two blocked shots for the Lady Volunteers (5-2). Her production came after she missed four of her first five shots from the field.
"In the first half, she was really becoming a distributor while she was waiting for her shot to fall," Schmidt said. "In the fourth quarter, she made a lot of shots. She is scoring a lot of points and rebounding. Anna McKell and Nora Kathryn Carroll threw some in tonight to and that helps.
"Our bench was great. We got some great play from Taylor Campbell, Adrienne Futral, and Jacey Williams. This will wind up being one of the smartest teams I have ever had because they see so many different things from the opposing teams trying to stop us."
Maegan Ellis led Oak Hill Academy with 21 points, while Harden added 15.
"We have played a very difficult schedule," Hughey said. "You can tell we have gotten a lot better. We just have to have everybody clicking at the same time if we going to beat some of the upper echelon teams we have been playing."
McKell had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Lady Volunteers, while Carroll had nine points and seven assists.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter