February 25, 2012 8:28:00 AM
Forget 5-hour Energy.
If you ever need a pick-me-up, try watching tapes of basketball teams scrambling all over the court in pressure defenses because they're bound to get your blood pumping.
After playing more than 24 minutes of face-contorting, rim-busting basketball, the Starkville Academy girls basketball team turned to pressure defense Friday afternoon in a last-ditch effort to keep its hope for a Class AAA state title alive.
The prospects looked grim. Trailing 26-14 with a little more than four minutes remaining, Starkville Academy was suffering through its worst offensive game of the season. Jackson Academy wasn't doing much better, but the Lady Raiders' physical style of play had knocked the Lady Volunteers off balance and out of rhythm. For a team that usually executes a half-court offense with precision, coach Glenn Schmidt didn't recognize her team. She tried multiple timeouts, but they didn't work. She tried sitting players to give them a chance to clear their minds and to wipe the frowns from their faces.
All it took was a little helter-skelter play to turn the momentum.
Starkville Academy did the trick by jumping into the passing lanes and deflecting passes, by reaching in and ripping the ball away from drivers, and from diving on the floor to grab anything that moved. It was a gutsy effort from a team with five seniors but a lot of inexperienced players who see significant minutes.
You wouldn't have expected it. Typically, teams that young often don't have the ability to regroup and to erase the memory of a disjointed effort. But Starkville Academy did more than that in the final four-plus minutes of regulation.
It grew up.
With seniors Anna Prestridge and April Burney leading the charge, Starkville Academy has earned a place in history. Last week, it earned the school's first basketball title when it captured the Class AAA, Division II state tournament at Heritage Academy. The Lady Volunteers encountered little opposition in sweeping to three victories.
On Friday, though, they were on the big stage. With no disrespect to any of the teams Starkville Academy beat last week, the Lady Volunteers were pushed, knocked down, and tested in ways they couldn't have imagined in Columbus. For more than 28 minutes, the strategy worked. Jackson Academy slowed the game down and used a motion offense to work the clock and Starkville Academy's patience -- until the Lady Volunteers turned the tide.
Junior Anna Lea Little attacked the basket. Sophomore Nora Kathryn Carroll hit a momentum-changing 3-pointer. Tiffany Huddleston provided the thievery, spurring a defense that had 13 steals and forced 20 turnovers.
Through it all, Sallie Kate Richardson was a rock inside. The sophomore post players didn't go unaffected. She allowed the physical play on the block to get into her head several times, as evidenced several times when a look that said, 'What is going on?" came across her face.
To her credit, Richardson shouldered the load of being the go-to player and didn't back down. She continued to shoot and to attack, even when she faced a double team in the second half.
That urgency will serve Starkville Academy well today when it tries to knock off Madison-Ridgeland Academy in the Class AAA state title game.
A trip to the overall state tournament next week already is assured. But regardless of how the team fares today and next week in Clinton, the Lady Volunteers learned good things can happen when you keep fighting. They learned that even on their best day they have the energy to make the improbable happen.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. He can be reached at: [email protected]
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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