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After playing the first half to a draw, Staunton River stepped it up after halftime to top Liberty 51-37.
In the end, the Golden Eagles rode the smooth and consistent play of Kelly Jackson and the fine outside shooting of Courtney Dearing to the win.
With the score knotted at 19, Head Coach Kim Jones threw down the challenge to her Eagle charges. “At halftime, I told the team that someone needed to step up,” she said following the game.
Jackson and Dearing heeded the call. Jackson pegged consecutive 12-foot jumpers before Dearing nailed a three-pointer from 3 o’clock on the arc.
Although the Minettes would claw back to within a pair on the strength of a Brandie Witt trey and a Joy Thompson putback, the Golden Eagles would never relinquish the lead.
In the fourth quarter, consecutive steals by Jackson led to a pair of Sam Sublett free throws and a Dearing three-point play, which effectively put the game out of reach midway through the period.
The so-called experts on Seminole hoops had given the Minettes little chance in this one. If nothing else, Liberty sent out a message that they can be competitive with anybody this season.
“That was our best game so far,” said Liberty Head Coach E.B. Watson. “We kept our poise. I’m proud of the way we played.”
Both teams suited up with players missing, due to a number of factors.
Other players that did suit up were ailing from injury or illness. It was hard to tell who was hurting from the intensity of the game.
Jodi Salyer typified the desire of both team’s players to lock horns with their county rivals.
Salyer, the freshman point guard for the Eagles, hurt her ankle in the early going. She hopped back to the trainer’s room, got it taped up and returned for the remainder of the game.
The scrappy Salyer played a whale of a game the rest of the way, pestering her counterpart Witt, helping to drive the River offensive game and showing off a coolness at the free throw stripe.
But, make no mistake about this one: It was the Jackson-Dearing show. The pair of team captains combined to score 72% of the Staunton River points, with Jackson accounting for 20 and Dearing having 16.
All but four of Dearing’s points came from beyond three-point land.
The win gives the Lady Eagles a 1-0 mark to open Seminole play. They share the top spot with Brookville, who beat Rustburg 52-39, and with Jefferson Forest, who topped Heritage 45-25 (see page 2B).
“We’ll take it one game at a time,” said Jones.
-Jackson left a strong impression on Liberty’s Coach Watson. “She killed it,” she said. “But, I can’t get mad (at my players) if there’s a hand in her face.” That was the case in this game.
-Minette Witt showed she’s got solid accuracy (as she did last year) from the outside. She nailed a pair of three-pointers against Staunton River and led Liberty’s scoring with 9 points.
-Liberty’s interior defense looked especially strong. Thompson, Cat Padgett, LaChelle Starks and Jasmine Gates squeezed the life out of any inside scoring aspirations the Eagles might have had. With rare exception, any scoring by Staunton River in the paint came off of fast breaks.
-Each team hit 50% of its free throws.
-Liberty was held scoreless until the 4:08 mark of the first quarter, and trailed 8-2 before storming back to tie it behind a Hannah Martin 8-footer and a free throw by Thompson.
Having played Heritage on Tuesday (after press time), the Minettes will host Brookville this Friday before hitting the Christmas break.
Staunton River hosts Heritage this Friday evening.
Staunton River will participate in the Byrd Tournament, kicking off on Saturday, Dec. 27, Liberty will take part in the Blacksburg Invitational, starting on Monday, Dec. 29.