JACKSON – The Starkville Academy Lady Volunteers have bought into the notion that defense wins championships.
It was certainly the case Saturday afternoon when the Lady Vols captured the Class AAA, Division II State title with a 63-15 victory over the East Rankin Lady Patriots at Hillcrest Christian School.
As the Starkville Academy lead grew in the second half, it prompted one particular fan to yell, "good defense!"
No truer words could have been spoken on that occasion.
The Lady Vols held the Lady Patriots to 16.7 percent shooting (6-of-36) from the field and 20 percent (1-of-5) from 3-point range. Starkville Academy caused 21 East Rankin turnovers.
The Lady Patriots were held to one field goal and a pair of free throws in the first half as the Lady Vols took a 40-4 lead at halftime.
"It's been a strange year where we've had a lot of leads early," Starkville Academy girls coach Glenn Schmidt said. "The only thing we've preached to them is play your game no matter what the score."
There was a good example of that in the second quarter.
With the Lady Vols up 37-2, East Rankin came down the floor and into the lane where SA senior guard Tiffany Huddleston took a charge.
"That's just the way she is," Schmidt said of Huddleston. "She is not going to lose her focus and knows when she needs to make a defensive play. She picked up a couple of steals. She keeps playing. I don't want to hold them back right now. This is State Tournament time."
Huddleston said it seems to give the team an emotional lift to stand in to take a charge.
"It does fire you up when you take one and see the ref point the other way," Huddleston said.
Huddleston, who was one of three Lady Vols with three steals each, said Schmidt preaches that the best offense is a good defense and they work on defense quite a bit in practice.
When she looked up to see the final score, Huddleston realized it was the type of defensive effort that needed to be given at this point of the season.
"Holding them to four points (in the first quarter) was encouraging," Huddleston said. "It's good to know we can play that type of defense and we hope to carry it on to next week."
Coach Michael McAnally liked the shots his Lady Patriots were taking early against SA and thought the pace early in the game was what they wanted.
However, East Rankin couldn't make shots and once the Lady Vols got their offense going, it was difficult on the Lady Patriots.
"Their length is what separates them," McAnally said. "We wanted to have long possessions and they are so good offensively that if you keep them from getting it, you better your chances. When it was 0-0 with 4 1/2 (minutes) left (in the first quarter,) it was right where we wanted and the shots we were taking were good shots, but we just missed them.
"As good as they are, you know they are going to eventually make shots. We try to run a lot of stuff where we're not screening because they are so good at switching screens. They force you to do some things offensively because of what they do defensively."
Starkville Academy hopes the defense can be the fuel that leads it through the next two tournaments as well.
Huddleston said step one has been completed with the Class AAA, Division II State trophy.
"It's fun winning and this is what we've worked all year for," Huddleston said. "It's something we've been working for since last May and all summer, fall and obviously the winter. It's nice to see the results coming now."