Starkville Academy's Caleb Merchant looks to make a pass against Hillcrest Christian on Saturday night. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Starkville Academy and Hillcrest tipped off Saturday for a thriller of a ballgame that came down to the final second of overtime before concluding with a 42-41 Cougar victory.
â€śWe played extremely well (Saturday),â€ť Starkville Academy coach Mark Alexander said. â€śI think we carried out the game plan exactly like we wanted to. We were very patient on the offensive end. We did everything like I envisioned us doing, but we missed some plays down the stretch and that really hurt us.â€ť
Offensively the Volunteers started the game with a 6-0 run, holding Hillcrest from scoring until just before the period ended. With 2:14 left in the first, Malcolm Hopkins hit a layup to put the Cougars on the board. Starkville Academy finished the first period ahead 12-5, highlighted by Carnail Minor who was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line.
Second period play was back and forth offensively, featuring a Starkville Academy layup by Caleb Merchant resulting from a nice give and go pass from teammate Brandon Sharp. Raheim Robinson completed scoring with two free throws to end the first half with the Volunteers leading 19-15.
Hillcrest shot lights out to start the second half, scoring the first seven points to take a 24-19 lead. Starkville Academy came roaring back, led by Merchantâ€™s shot at the buzzer, to end third period play with both teams tied at 30.
The final period of action came down to free throws as the Volunteers and Cougars traded turns at the line. In the final seconds of action, Starkville Academy had an opportunity to win the game as Brandon Sharp stole the ball, went coast to coast, but missed a sideline jumper. Sharpâ€™s missed shot sent the game into overtime with the score tied 36-36.
Hillcrest took advantage offensively in the extra period taking the ball inside and drawing fouls which resulted in the Cougars taking a 40-37 lead. The lead would be short lived as Minor was fouled in the midst of shooting a 3-pointer. The Volunteer went to the line where he made all three free throws to tie the game back up with 17 seconds remaining.
Starkville Academyâ€™s Sharp took possession of the ball following a Cougar turnover. Hillcrest quickly fouled the Volunteer who went to the line hitting 1-of-2 free throws to place Starkville Academy up one with 5 seconds left.
On the following possession, Hillcrest threw the ball and was fouled with less than a second remaining. Dillion Patrick headed to the charity stripe where he sunk both baskets to give Hillcrest the victory.
â€śHillcrest is a really good team,â€ť said Alexander. â€śThey are the reigning Division II State champs. That is what is so disappointing to have a chance to win the game and have it slip through your hands like that.â€ť
Minor led the Volunteer charge with 19, followed by Sharp and Robinson who rounded out the Starkville Academy top three with six points a piece.
Tyler Harless was the leading Cougar with nine. Bryce Baker was right on Harlessâ€™ heels as the second highest Hillcrest scorer with eight.
Starkville Academy 75
Before the excitement of the boys game, Starkville Academy and Hillcrestâ€™s girls faced off in a game that saw the Lady Volunteers win.
â€śIt was a big conference win for us,â€ť Lady Vols coach Glenn Schmidt said. â€śWe knew they were good. We have watched tape on them and weâ€™ve seen their scores. So we knew they could play. Theyâ€™ve got some big offensive threats that can shoot the three well, but we talk about taking away that extra point defensively. If we can force them to drive and shoot a two instead of a three we think that is better. We were able to do that (Saturday).â€ť
Saturdayâ€™s match was all about offense for the Lady Vols as they shot 56.3% from the 3-point arc, compared to Hillcrest who shot 26%.
Starkville Academy went 29-for-62 from field goal range and added another eight points to its total shooting 72.7% from the charity stripe.
Those stats show the offensive dominance of the Lady Vols but the impressiveness does not stop there. Starkville Academy posted 19 assists on the night, demonstrating that winning for them is not a one-woman show but rather a team effort.
Starkville Academyâ€™s run for victory started in the first period as the Lady Vols outscored the Lady Cougars by five to hold a 14-9 lead after one.
â€śWe come out early and pick up 10-11 points on you quick,â€ť Schmidt said. â€śYou may catch up, but that is one of our strengths we are going to go out and sting you early.â€ť
Second period action saw Starkville Academy begin to run away offensively. The Lady Vols posted 21 points during their eight minutes on the court, while defensively they held the Lady Cougars to 12.
Heading into the half Starkville Academy led 35-21.
As the teams returned to the court from the locker rooms, it was clear that things were not going to slow down offensively for the Lady Vols.
Again holding Hillcrest to 12, Starkville Academy scored 23 in the period to push ahead 58-33 with eight minutes left to play.
The final period of play saw Starkville Academy widen its lead by 17. The Lady Vols defense held Hillcrest to eight points to seal their victory.
Maggie Proffitt was the leading Lady Vol on the court with 26 points and seven rebounds. Fellow starter Sallie Kate Richardson was next in the Starkville Academy leaders with 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four blocks. Rounding out the Lady Vols top three was Nora Kathryn Carroll who posted 11 points.
Christina Berryhill and Kelli Randle led the way for the Lady Cougars scoring 15 and 13 respectively.
With their double-digit victory Starkville Academy moved to 14-0 overall, continuing their quest for a repeat trip to the State championship.
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