By Tyson Rodgers
Special to the Dispatch
STARKVILLE — Academy basketball was on display Tuesday night in front of a packed house, as Starkville Academy and East Rankin Academy boys’ and girls’ teams squared off.
A low scoring affair saw the East Rankin Patriots (13-12) defeat the Starkville Academy Volunteers (12-11) 41-37. The win for the Patriots came thanks in part to the shooting of senior Jacob Weldon, who led all scores with 20 points. In with those 20 points was a transition layup that sealed the deal and put the dagger in the Volunteers with two minutes to go.
“I was just trying to get to the goal and attack,” said senior Jacob Weldon of his late-game layup. “I wanted to get a quick two points before they got back on defense.”
Weldon’s night was also aided by his fellow teammate Trevor Jordan who finished the night with nine points, scoring the Patriots’ first two baskets to open a 4-2 lead for East Rankin. Weldon added two three pointers in the first eight minutes to help the Patriots run out to a 14-10 advantage to end the poor shooting effort for the first quarter.
“We are not a really good jump shooting team,” East Rankin coach Michael McAnally said. “Our team is athletic and we try to get to the rim. Weldon hit some threes for us early in the game, which is not really his forte. But I thought he had the hot hand early on.”
Starkville Academy closed the four-point gap by the end of the first half however, as the Volunteers scored five of the last seven baskets in the second quarter to bring the first 16 minutes of the game to a 22-22 draw.
Weldon, who was mostly responsible for winning the game, was responsible for tying it going into intermission. After the Volunteers took the lead from a Carnail Minor trey, Weldon answered back with a three of his own that found the bottom of the net.
“He hit some in practice early and I guess it showed in the game, because he came out hot,” Jordan said of Weldon’s three-point shooting.
If you were watching Weldon for the first time, you would think the senior has been dead-on all season from long range. That is not the case.
“I usually don’t make those,” Weldon said. “I just came out and they started falling. I guess I was just feeling it a little bit.”
Some of that three-magic must have rubbed off on teammate Peyton Cross, who drained back-to-back treys to open the half. The Volunteers did not back down though, striking back at the Patriots with four points from sophomore Brandon Lane to keep the game close.
Weldon would again counter the Volunteers’ efforts as he made consecutive layups after running the fast break off of steals. The lead would be stretched to 34-28 before Starkville Academy’s Bradley Weseli hit a buzzer-beating three in front of his coach to end the third quarter.
To open up the final eight minutes, Weldon would again add his name to the scorebook as he led yet another fast break to score on an easy layup. The Volunteers would score three of the next four baskets to narrow the lead to a single point. Once again Weldon stepped up.
After inbounding the ball up one, Weldon would sprint down the court and slash through Starkville’s defenders to attack the rim. Scoring the dagger for his team and picking up a conference win in the process.
“That’s his game right there,” McAnally said of Weldon’s basket. “I get on to him sometimes about settling for jump shots, because he is a streaky jump shooter. He’s athletic and strong; his strength like our team is that we get to the rim. I am always telling him to get to the rim and get something easy. He was able to do that tonight.”
The road win for McNally’s squad put the Patriots at 13-12 on the season, giving East Rankin its third conference win on the season.
“It’s huge to be above .500,” McNally said. ” To get a conference win is even bigger. The win helps us avoid that fourth spot in the division and helps us get a little closer to that two seed. Any time you win a conference game and especially on the road it’s a big win.”
In the opener, the Lady Volunteers cruise to a 68-34 victory over the Lady Patriots to stay unbeaten. The win for Glenn Schmidt’s club was number 27 on the year and was never in doubt from the opening tip.
Don’t ask Schmidt’s players what their record is, because that is not talked about under the long-tenured coach’s watch.
“We don’t talk about our record,” Schmidt said about being undefeated. “We talk about how well we have to play and the things we have to do to win the next game. It is all irrelevant, because you are only as good as the next 32 minutes you play.”
What was relevant on the night was the defense of the Lady Volunteers as they smothered the Lady Patriots and allowed on two points in the third quarter.
“We always try to play a big third quarter and that was key for us,” Schmidt said.
“Every time they would chip away at the lead, it would seem like we would get a three, a layup or a big offensive board.”
After scoring 18 points in the second quarter to cut the Lady Volunteers’ lead to 41-24, the Lady Patriots could only mustard up 10 points in the second half.
Points were not a problem for Starkville Academy as the scoring was spread around with four players in double figures. Senior Maggie Proffitt led the way with 17 points on the evening, with junior Sallie Katie Richardson not far behind with 15 points.
Good coaches however always find something to improve on. Even with a dominating win and undefeated record.
“We had constant pressure on the ball and we haven’t seen that a lot this season,” Schmidt said. “We have to do some work on that, because in the first half that did so us down a bit.”
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.