The Starkville Academy girls basketball team hasn’t lost to archrival Heritage Academy in better than seven seasons.
Senior Sallie Kate Richardson made sure that streak remained alive Tuesday night.
Richardson had two critical blocked shots and the Lady Volunteers had four total in overtime as they escaped with a 52-42 victory.
“Their game plan was different,” Richardson said. “Every time Nora Kathryn (Carroll) or I touched the ball, we were doubled. That just meant some other players had to step up. We were really patient in the fourth quarter and overtime and found a way to win.”
During Starkville Academy’s run in the series, many scores have resembled last season when the Lady Volunteers won 72-34 and 74-36. Few games have resembled Tuesday night, when the largest lead for either team in regulation was five points.
“Their seniors are quality basketball players and quality people,” Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt said. “They came to the gym to defeat us today. They had a good game plan. We were patient and waited it out. That is something we need to learn more of. Younger players have to believe in themselves and make shots.”
Heritage Academy (10-8, 4-4) played like a team full of confidence. The Lady Patriots came close to the upset as a game-winning basket by Anna Kilarski was waved off with 2.8 seconds left in regulation because timeout had been called by the bench before the shot went in the air. The inbounds resulted in double-team pressure on the ballhandler, potential contact wasn’t called, and a traveling call ended regulation.
“(My team) thought they were the best team on the floor tonight,” Heritage Academy coach Chris Ball said. “We had a game plan they have been talking about for a while. To tell you a little bit about the thought process of this team, they came in and had a practice by themselves (Tuesday) seventh period, without the coaches present. That is how excited they were about this game. They knew the opportunity was going to be there.”
One of the biggest points came earlier in the fourth quarter. The Lady Patriots built a 39-37 lead on a 3-pointer by Shiloh Ellis, who followed with a steal in the open court and Heritage Academy had the numbers. However, the possession ended in a missed shot. After the rebound was secured, Ball was assessed a technical for being out of the coach’s box. Richardson hit both free throws with 2:25 to tie the game at 39. The Lady Volunteers took the possession and ran the clock down to 16 seconds before missing a pair of attempts at the basket.
In overtime, Starkville Academy (16-6, 5-1) scored the first five points and again used ball control to run out the clock. Jacey Williams hit two free throws and Richardson hit four straight to seal the win.
“We did a lot of things right at the end of the game,” Schmidt said. “When we missed shots, we pulled down the rebound. When we had to handle the ball, we were near flawless. When we had to have free throws, some of our younger players and our seniors both stepped up to the line and made free throws.
“Heritage Academy came here to whip us. They were intent, focused. They did a great job tonight. They made some tremendous offensive shots. They hit some 3-pointers with hands in their face. I feel fortunate. However, I think we deserved to win. Both teams played awfully well.”
Led by 25 points and 14 rebounds from Richardson, Starkville Academy won the first meeting, 61-38. Any future dealings against Richardson and the Lady Volunteers will take place in the postseason.
“I’m proud of my girls,” Ball said. “Sallie Kate totally destroyed us last time, so our No. 1 goal was to make sure that didn’t happen again. We fought hard. It came down to the end. The timeout hurt us or we win the game. This team has grown to trust one another. They play as a team instead of individuals. They now believe that on any night any player can step up and win the game. What is happening they are working hard on their own. They are taking pride and investing in the program. It showed tonight with the effort and determination we gave.”
Heritage Academy scored the first four points and quickly gained confidence with each shot. The Lady Patriots hit the only five 3-pointers and each helped shift the momentum.
“They had the home-court advantage and they came out and scored the first couple of points,” said Richardson, who was held to nine points and one field goal. “It took us a while to find out rhythm (SA missed eight of its first 11 shots). You could tell when both of those things happened, their confidence grew a whole lot, so after that, we just had to settle down and play our game and do the things that we can do.”
Heritage Academy eased into halftime with a 19-17 lead. However, Starkville Academy appeared to have taken control with a game-best 32-27 lead with 4:15 left. However, 3-pointers by Lauren Pole and Ellis helped get the Lady Patriots to overtime and gave them a chance to believe.
“You saw a different team out there tonight,” Ball said. “You saw a team play with confidence and a belief in one another. You saw a team that did enough to win a game against an outstanding opponent.”
Nora Kathryn Carroll had 18 points in the first meeting and led Starkville Academy with 19 points in the rematch. Anna McKell added 12 points.
Ellis (14) and Kristen Phillips (11) led Heritage Academy.
In the nightcap, the Starkville Academy boys (6-13, 2-4) erased a two-point halftime deficit to post a 65-53 victory against Heritage Academy (3-9, 1-7) to earn a season split.
Caleb Merchant and Brandon Lane led Starkville Academy with 18 points apiece. Parker Guest added 12.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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