January 5, 2011 9:27:00 AM
The Heritage Academy girls basketball team showed Tuesday night it is much more than a one-player team.
Fueled by the strong play of Rachel Hollivay for most of the evening, Heritage Academy received key contributions from Stephanie Cruse, Bailey Rader, and Christibeth Nelson in the fourth quarter to help it rally for a 52-48 victory against Starkville Academy in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, North Division game.
Hollivay, a 6-foot-5 center who is one of the nation''s top juniors, had a game-high 24 points and 11 blocked shots to keep the Lady Patriots close. But neither team could pull away, as Heritage Academy led 13-7 in the first quarter and Starkville Academy had a 21-15 advantage in the second quarter.
The back-and-forth play didn''t end until Rader (seven points) scored on a layup down the middle of the lane with 1 minute, 43 seconds remaining to give Heritage Academy the lead for good at 46-45.
The play didn''t go as coach Bruce Allsup designed. The Lady Patriots (11-8, 4-3 Class AAA North Division) nearly threw the ball away on an inbounds pass just to the right of their bench, but Rader tracked the ball down after a scramble and then saw the opening and split the gap.
Cruse (eight points) and Nelson (11) each hit two free throws to push the lead to 50-45 before Rader and Nelson each hit 1 of 2 free throws to seal the deal.
"I think the key was our seniors who were on the floor -- Bailey Rader, Stephanie Cruse, and Christibeth Nelson -- all made some big shots or some big free throws down the stretch to help us win," Allsup said. "They all were big."
Nelson, who is one of the top perimeter shooters in the area, battled sickness and didn''t have as strong a shooting game as she has had this season. As a result, Heritage Academy relied on Hollivay, who scored on a variety of post moves and outside shots to make up the difference.
"I would say she is 90 to 95 percent right now," said Allsup, referring to a foot injury that kept Hollivay out of action earlier in the season. "I want to see her get more aggressive on the boards. I think she can just dominate the game if she just gets more aggressive on the boards."
Ideally, Allsup said the Lady Patriots would like to operate more inside-out to capitalize on the shooting of Nelson, Rader, and Cruse. Nelson found her rhythm in the fourth quarter, hitting a jumper at the start of the period and then taking a pass from Hollivay to drain a 3-pointer with 4:40 left to give Heritage Academy a 42-41 lead. Rader got involved, too, finding Hollivay for a basket that flipped the lead again before she scored the biggest basket of the evening to turn the advantage a final time.
"The seniors know if they have an open shot they are supposed to take it," Allsup said. "We have faith and confidence in all of them to shoot the ball. The more they''re hitting, the more it is going to open up Rachel more in there. It was great to see they were able to come in in the clutch tonight."
Starkville Academy wasn''t intimidated by Hollivay, who also altered a host of other shots. Freshman Sallie Kate Richardson had 16 points and 13 rebounds, and junior guard Anna Prestridge added 11 points. Sophomore Anna Lea Little (nine points) had a key 3-pointer from the right corner to give Starkville Academy a 41-39 lead with 5:21 to play. Richardson and Little each scored baskets in the lane with less than four minutes to go to help the Lady Volunteers (12-10, 3-4) grab one-point leads, but they missed five shots in a row down the stretch that helped the Lady Patriots steal the momentum.
"I was really proud of our youngsters," Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt said. "That is a very good basketball team. They are not a one-man team. Rader steps up and scores when she needs to, Cruse scores when she needs to, their pressure defense is very good. That is a very good basketball team."
Schmidt has only eight players on her roster, and five of them are juniors, so she believes the program has a bright future if everyone stays together. She saw plenty of signs Tuesday that the Lady Volunteers are moving in the right direction.
"Richardson could have laid down but she didn''t," Schmidt said. "I thought she did a really good job. Anna Lea Little never played basketball at this level. She played at Starkville Christian last year. I probably expect a whole lot more from her than I should, but she has the ability to play better. I am not blaming anything on her, but there is going to be a day when she comes to play and she is really going to hurt some people."
Schmidt also praised the efforts of Prestridge. She admitted her junior point guard probably sees to many minutes out of necessity, which likely affects her late in games when she can''t pressure opposing guards like she is fresh.
"I hope games like this will help us grow up a little bit quicker," Schmidt said.
n Immanuel Christian girls 54, Starkville Christian 30: At Steens, Kaitlyn Shreiner had 10 points Tuesday night to help the Lady Rams improve to 11-10.
Taylor Baudoin had eight points and five rebounds, and Meghan Cooper had six assists.
In the girls junior varsity game, Megan Anthony had 14 points and six rebounds in Immanuel Christian''s 28-22 victory.
Keri Ann Hutcherson had nine points, and Kari Thomason added five steals for Immanuel Christian (5-12).
n Immanuel Christian boys 56, Starkville Christian 15: Les Moore led the Immanuel Rams with 13 points, while Wade Lee added 10.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.