By DANNY P. SMITH
Players that helped establish a basketball program at Starkville Christian School were recognized Monday night for their contributions.
Seniors Mary Grace White and Rachel Witbeck of the Lady Cougars and Ethan Willers, Aaron Bowman and Micah Little of the Cougars took part in a short ceremony between the two varsity games against Central Academy at the Cougar Cave.
White and Witbeck hold a special place in the heart of Starkville Christian girls coach Kate Little because they were freshmen when she began coaching at the school.
"This is the first group that has gone through high school the whole way," Little said. "To see where they've come from that first year until now, they have given so much to the team and they've made it a priority. That speaks volumes to those who are loyal to something."
White scored in double digits with 10 points, but the Lady Cougars lost a 45-33 decision to the Lady Vikings.
Little said White developed a toughness that made her a good player at SCS.
"She got scrappy and used to shy away a little bit even though she had the height," Little said. "She's gotten in there and gotten huge rebounds that we've needed that was beneficial to the team."
Even though Witbeck suffered a season-ending knee injury early, Little still used her leadership qualities from the bench.
"She's still beneficial even though she wasn't playing," Little said. "She's been to every practice and every game."
After a competitive first half that ended with Central Academy leading 23-17, the Lady Vikings scored the first two baskets of the second half to increase the margin to 27-17.
The Lady Cougars got back into the game, mainly due to the scoring efforts of White.
White had three free throws in the third quarter and another free throw and basket in the fourth quarter to cut the Central Academy advantage all of the way down to 28-26 with 7:06 left in the game.
Blake Rigdon scored a basket and free throw to put the Lady Vikings up 31-26, then Heather Koehn provided two points to get Starkville Christian to within 31-28 with 6:05 left in the game.
Central Academy went on a 12-0 run to take control of the game and held a 43-28 advantage at the 2:39 mark of the fourth quarter. Rigdon scored 10 of her game-high 22 points in the final CA surge.
Charity Morris led the Lady Cougars with 11 points and Little was glad to see her squad compete with the Lady Vikings.
"It was the team playing as a whole," Little said. "We missed so many layups and couldn't buy a layup. We probably could have won the game."
The final game of the season for the Starkville Christian girls will be on the road next Monday at Kemper Academy.
Central Academy 73
Starkville Christian 42
Willers had a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Bowman added 12 points, but the Cougars had a difficult time slowing down the Vikings.
Despite coming up short, Jonathan Little expressed his appreciation for the seniors and what they have done in his first year as SCS boys coach.
"They showed extreme leadership on and off the court with just little things like hustling and being total team players," Little said. "You couldn't ask for a better group of guys. It makes it a lot easier when players lead the team, that's the best form of a team and it doesn't fall on the coach for all of the motivational stuff. They get on each other and push each other. That's how you get better."
Coach Little started his three seniors in Willer, Bowman and Micah Little. Micah Little has been limited for the Cougars as a precautionary move due to suffering a head and spinal injury earlier in the season.
Central Academy scored the first basket in the boys game, but Starkville Christian got the next six points to gain the lead. Bowman scored on an assist from Caleb Jordan to put the Cougars up 6-2.
The Vikings went on an 8-0 run to take a 10-6 advantage and were up 12-9 after the first quarter.
Starkville Christian was able to get the game tied at 15-15 with a free throw by Jordan at the 4-minute mark of the second quarter, but Ferris McGuire scored nine of his 13 first-half points in the second quarter as Central Academy held a 23-20 lead at halftime.
The Vikings out-scored their host 21-11 in the third quarter to extend the lead to 44-31, then coasted for the rest of the game.
McGuire poured in 35 points for Central Academy.
The Cougars have one more home game left against the Meridian Flyers on Friday before traveling to Kemper County on Monday.