Defense leads Raiders to sectional victoryJanuary 29, 2019
By JONATHAN SAXON
VINCENNES — They say lightning never strikes the same place twice, but the Southridge girls basketball team must have missed that message. They faced a former regular season foe in Pike Central in their opening game of the sectional tournament, and the Raiders were able to produce the perfect balance of made shots and defensive stops needed to once again best the Chargers 47-30 at Vincennes Lincoln High School in order to move on to the semifinal round of the tournament.
Raider head coach Steve Rust was ecstatic after the game with how his team played and used their previous Dec. 6 meeting with the Chargers (a 54-50 overtime win) to tweak the team’s approach to great effect.
“Real proud of the effort that they gave,” he said. “They executed the game plan really well. Defensively they pretty much played us the way they did last time, so we tweaked our offense a little bit. We attacked the bucket real well, we watched them in recent games and they shot the ball really well. We knew we had to crowd those shooters and get out on them, and the girls did a nice job with that.”
Senior guard Mady Neukam got the Raiders (7-14) started on the right foot by scoring the team’s first six points in the opening quarter. Sophomore guard Kennedy Nalley soon followed with a hard drive of her own, and Neukam struck gold from midrange to give the Raiders a solid 10-point head start on the Chargers (5-17, 1-6). Sophomore forward Mallory Hickey was able to draw a foul and made one of two shots from the foul line to put Pike Central’s first point on the board. She would later put in a layup, but junior forward Grace Sickbert was also able to find the cup in response, giving Southridge a 12-3 edge at the end of the first quarter.
Freshman forward Myah Montgomery made one of her foul line shots to start the second quarter, but sophomore guard Kenzie Powell and senior forward Hailey Marchino hit back-to-back threes to keep the Chargers hot on the Raiders’ heels. Montgomery was able to answer each three-pointer with a bucket of her own, but junior guard Lauren Vaughn found some room to drive one in to get Pike Central within six points of Southridge. Neukam, Kennedy, and Sickbert contributed an additional six points between them to keep the Raiders afloat, but Powell nailed a second three near the end of the quarter which saw the Chargers close the lead to 23-18 at halftime.
Hickey started the second half with a putback shot to shrink the deficit to three points, but Nalley and Neukam rallied for five quick points to give the Raiders some much needed breathing room. With space to operate on the scoreboard, the Raiders switched up their defense to concentrate more on protecting the perimeter to keep the three-ball from getting the Chargers back in the game. At the same time Montgomery started to come alive and find her shot more consistently for the Raiders, scoring nine points in the third as Southridge used a 15-point third quarter to distance themselves from Pike Central.
With the damage done, all the Raiders had to do was step up and make their free throws in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t hurt to also have field goals from Neukam and Nalley to seal the deal. The Raiders went to the foul line nine times in the fourth quarter (making four of them) and held the Chargers to just one point as they closed the game 47-30 and claimed their spot in the sectional semifinals to face Princeton.
Neukam had 16 points, while Montgomery finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Powell led Pike Central with eight points and Hickey had another seven.
“Our defense was where it needed to be tonight,” said Neukam. “It was obvious they came out targeting our best player, Myah. They were making sure she wasn’t going to score, so that was our biggest obstacle. She worked with it and did what she needed to do for the team, so that was a big deal.”
“Our defense is what won the game,” added Montgomery. “Some of our shots weren’t falling at first, but we picked it up throughout the game.”
This was also Rust’s first sectional win in his three years at Southridge. He called it a sigh of relief, and is excited to march forward as the team prepares for their Friday semifinal game against Princeton (14-8, 4-2).
“That’s awesome,” he said. “You want to be able to perform in the tourney. After the season that we had, (it) wasn’t as successful as we wanted it to be, we got this new season started off right. Now we can move on and figure out what we’re going to do against the Princeton Tigers.”
The Raiders lost to the Tigers 43-25 when they met on Nov. 8, but with a renewed vigor that comes with a sectional win the team believes they are capable of duplicating their defensive effort to keep their tourney run alive.
“I think we need to keep up our defense,” said Nalley, who pocketed seven points. “Defense wins games, and if we can stop them on defense we have the talent to score more than them. If we just play good defense I think it’ll work out for us.”
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