March 2, 2012 3:40:00 AM
CLINTON -- One down, two to go.
Reality can make the high of even a first Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA state championship wear off pretty quickly.
Such was the predicament the Starkville Academy girls basketball team faced Wednesday in its first game at the MAIS overall state tournament at A.E. Wood Coliseum on the campus of Mississippi College.
It didn't matter to Bowling Green (La.) Academy that Starkville Academy was a champion. The Lady Bucs, the No. 2 seed from Class AA, were only concerned with keeping their season alive, so they didn't care about their opponent's magical season.
Nearly three quarters into the game, though, Starkville Academy found its stride. And much like it had done in its prior two games, the Lady Volunteers showed they had a finishing kick as they pulled away for a 10-point victory.
At 1 p.m. today, Starkville Academy (36-5) hopes to build on that momentum when it takes on Class AAA rival Jackson Prep in the semifinals. The winner of today's game will advance to the overall state title game at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Starkville Academy beat Jackson Prep by 11 points in Starkville and lost by nine on the road. Coach Glenn Schmidt hopes her team learned a lesson from another slow start and will come out and set the pace today.
"My goal is to get ahead at the end of the first quarter," Schmidt said. "I want to be ahead and take over the game early and make somebody else climb out of the bucket."
Fresh off a 3 p.m. start Wednesday, Schmidt isn't sure how her team will respond to the unusual tip today. She said the team typically practices at 2:30 p.m. every day, but she knows both teams will be in for a different experience.
"I think it will take our diligence, running our offenses, going to the offensive boards, and finding ways to score when Prep tries to stop us," Schmidt said. "We have been able to defense Prep, but we're going to have to do that again."
True to form, Starkville Academy used a team effort to advance. Julianne Jackson had a team-high 15 points and Tiffany Huddleston added 13 off the bench to help the Lady Volunteers rally from a 33-21 deficit late in the third quarter.
"They're all in the gym doing the same thing in practice every day," Schmidt said, "so any one of our players, we feel like if we called on them would know what to do. It was their moment to come in there and handle it."
Starkville Academy also trailed by double digits in the Class AAA semifinals and finals before rallying to beat Jackson Academy and Madison-Ridgeland Academy. Schmidt knows she doesn't want to go down that road again, especially against a tough opponent like Jackson Prep.
Schmidt anticipates Anna Lea Little likely will see a lot of defensive attention today. She praised her junior forward for playing a smart game against Bowling Green Academy and letting things come to her. She finished with eight points, four rebounds, and two steals. Sallie Kate Richardson only had five points, but she had a team-high 12 rebounds. Anna Prestridge led the way with six assists.
Jackson joked after the game friends have told the Lady Volunteers they have been giving them heart attacks by having to come from behind by so many points. She said in no way, though is it a pattern the team wishes to continue.
Huddleston agreed. She said it took a while to adjust to the atmosphere and Bowling Green Academy's style of play. Starkville Academy shouldn't face that dilemma against one of its biggest rivals in a game that should be filled with intensity.
"I hope we don't come out the way we did in the first quarter (today) and that we play like we did in the third and fourth quarters," Huddleston said. "I am glad we got the first game out of the way to get our nerves (ready) and get us used to playing in this gym."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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