PELAHATCHIE – The Starkville Academy Lady Volunteers trailed in the fourth quarter for the second game in a row, but once again they prevailed.
This time the Lady Vols knocked off Madison-Ridgeland Academy 47-35 to win the Class AAA State Championship Saturday afternoon at East Rankin Gymnasium.
"Two games in a row we have made a 20-3 and 26-4 run at the end," Starkville Academy head coach Glenn Schmidt said. "You just want to say 'what are you waiting for,' but I think a lot of it is our youth at a couple of positions and they are feeling their way through the game."
The Lady Vols trailed 31-21 late in the third quarter when senior point guard Anna Prestridge knocked down a 3-pointer and followed up with another basket to cut the lead down to five at 31-26.
"Just to keep it up, keep our heads up, not get each other down and encourage each other," sophomore Sallie Kate Richardson said of what coach told them in the huddle. "Just keep pushing through."
Junior Tiffany Huddleston added a free throw before the quarter ended and the Lady Vols trailed 31-27 entering the fourth quarter.
The Lady Patriots scored four points in the final quarter, but that was the last time they scored. Between Prestridge's 3-pointer and the end of the game, the Lady Vols went on a 26-4 run.
"It always seems to be something big that happens," Schmidt said. "It may have been Prestridge's 3-point shot. We hit our free throws. Somebody said Richardson was 12 out of 12. We decided that if they were going to foul, we were going to risk it."
As for the shot that got the run going, Prestridge credits her teammates for giving her the confidence to knock down that shot.
"I was really feeding off my other teammates," Prestridge said. "They make all the difference in the world for our win. When I hit those shots, it kind of got us going. We picked up our defense and we ended up with the win."
For some of the players, it felt like a roller coaster game.
"I'm amazed because we came out flat and then we came out strong towards the second half," sophomore Nora Kathryn Carroll said. "We knew we had to step it up. It's just exciting for us to be here."
For Richardson, it was her battle under the goal that kept the Lady Vols in the game.
"I just felt like if they were willing to give that to us, we had to take it," Schmidt said. "They were not going to give (Anna Lea) Little a shot. For the last two games, somebody has said 'do not give Anna Lea Little a shot.' She is a phenomenal shooter. She shoots about 54 percent from the 3, about 50 percent from (the field) and she is our leading free-throw shooter. They are saying 'you are not going to beat us,' so I'm saying 'if you give Richardson the ball you are going to have to deal with it.' Everybody else feeds off of that."
Richardson's counter part Amber Landing, equaled her in height, so the battle went back and forth.
"We are about the same height so it was easy for her to block my shot and me to block hers," Richardson said. "We kept going back and forth, and back and forth. Finally, we just pulled through."
The first possession of the game, the Lady Vols pulled down four offensive rebounds, but the Lady Patriots began to rebound better as the game went on.
"We started the game with four offensive rebounds on that first possession and I felt good about that," Schmidt said. "We were giving up a few offensive rebounds to them. We had trouble blocking them off to start with."
The defense has been a big part to the Lady Vols success this season, but it didn't show up until the game was almost over.
"Just great team defense the last quarter," Schmidt said. "Maybe 4 or 5 minutes to go, we just picked it up and they didn't get a good shot. We finally kept them off the boards."
SA trailed 12-9 at the end of the first quarter and entered the locker room at half down 18-17 after a 4-0 MRA run at the end of the half.
"I don't know," senior Lady Vol April Burney said of her feeling. "It's exciting but it's better than the first time. They were a lot harder team than the other teams we played and it was going to be a challenge. We pulled through and it was really amazing."
For Little, the emotion was easier to find.
"We are so excited," Little said. "It doesn't get any better than beating MRA in the championship."
Richardson, Little and Prestridge made the All-Tournament Team for the second week in a row.
Richardson led the Lady Vols with 20 points and 14 rebounds with eight boards coming on the offensive end. Little added 11 points, Huddleston chipped in nine points and Prestridge ended up with seven points.
The Lady Vols play next week for the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Overall State Championship.
"This is awesome and we want to win another one next week," Prestridge said.