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By JOEL COLEMAN
Finally, the Starkville Academy Lady Volunteers earned the chance to relax.
After a string of close games, SA pulled away from Copiah Academy in the first half of a Friday night hoops contest, ultimately cruising to a 68-31 win.
The comfortable margin of victory was a welcome sight for Lady Vols head coach Glenn Schmidt.
"It was good to have a game that we could breathe a little in," said Schmidt. "Most of our games have been close and physical. Nothing against Copiah, but we started off shooting really well, played good defense and set the tone."
Anna Lea Little scored a game-high 19 points for Starkville Academy as the junior was one of three Lady Vols to score in double digits.
Nora Kathryn Carroll added 13 points and Sallie Kate Richardson put up 12 for SA, who improved to 12-1 overall and 3-0 in division play.
Copiah fell to 0-10 overall.
Though the Lady Colonels' season-long struggles continued on Friday, Little said at no point in the game did the Lady Vols take anything for granted.
"We just wanted to beat them as bad as we could and just keep our focus throughout the game," said Little.
Little and her teammates indeed did maintain their intensity.
After jumping out to a 15-12 advantage following the first quarter, Starkville Academy allowed just three second-quarter points as the Lady Vols held a 37-15 lead at halftime.
SA continued to pull away in the third quarter to take a 55-21 lead into the final period.
Ahead by plenty, Schmidt was able to give an abundance of playing time to her reserves.
The Starkville Academy bench accounted for 24 total points for the night.
"It's always good to empty the bench because everyone works really hard in practice," said Schmidt. "I'm just proud for our kids to have a game like that."
Little was also glad to see so many of her teammates get game action and display SA's depth.
"We all practice really hard every day and we all want playing time," said Little. "That's why we work as hard as we can."
Even with the win and the team-wide contributions, Schmidt and the Lady Vols don't have much time to enjoy things.
Starkville Academy returns to action today in McComb, facing Parklane.
"We'll start over then," said Schmidt.
Starkville Academy 44
Starkville Academy held a 22-17 halftime lead but saw it slip away in the second half as Copiah surged to the win.
Austin Kinard scored 16 points for the Vols and Carnail Minor added 15 but it wasn't enough to stop SA's slide over the course of the third and fourth quarters.
"I was feeling pretty good at halftime, but you've got to give (Copiah) credit," said Starkville Academy head coach Mark Alexander. "They came out in the fourth quarter and really stepped it up on defense. That was the difference in the game.
"They took us out of our offense and we couldn't get those easy looks that we were getting in the first half and they just really got after us, disrupted us and took it to us."
The loss drops the Vols to 4-6 overall this season and 0-3 in division play.
The Colonels improved to 7-3 overall.
Copiah had three players score in double figures for the night, led by Ty Quick's 16-point effort.
Dillon Martin added 12 points for the Colonels while Michael Bagley scored 10.
Copiah head coach Kent Chamblee was pleased with how his entire team performed, particularly after falling behind in the first half.
"I thought we did a great job in the second half," said Chamblee. "First half, we've been coming out flat for the last couple of games.
"In the second half though, I told the guys we were just going to play man-to-man and I thought we did a great job of it."
Starkville Academy played the game without one of its premier offensive threats, senior Calvin Young, who is out for the season after a severe knee injury sustained in Tuesday's loss to East Rankin.
Young suffered a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus, and is now one of two Vols, along with junior Brandon Sharp, to be done for the year due to knee ailments.
"We're just searching right now," said Alexander. "It's tough. I tried to do a lot of different lineups, just trying to figure out something that is going to work."
Unfortunately for Alexandar, SA couldn't come up with the right answer against Copiah.
"This was a game we really needed to win," said Alexander. "It was a conference game. It was at home. It wasn't against one of the predicted top-tier teams in the league. To have a lead at halftime and not be able to pull it out, it's certainly very disappointing."
Starkville Academy returns to action today at Parklane.