It was only fitting that Friday night's girls game against Pillow Academy ended with a steal by the Starkville Academy Lady Volunteers.
The defense displayed by the Lady Vols was instrumental in picking up a 40-25 victory over the Lady Mustangs at the SA gymnasium.
"It was as good a defense as we've played all year," Starkville Academy girls coach Glenn Schmidt said. "I don't think either one of us played particularly well offensively, but I think it's because of pretty good defense."
Senior point guard Anna Prestridge said the Lady Vols did place special emphasis on defense in practice this week.
"We worked on defending screen and rolls and we did concentrate on defense a lot," Prestridge said.
Starkville Academy, which improved to 23-3 overall, had lost its two previous games against Pillow this season.
The third time was the charm and was a sweet victory for the Lady Vols as they celebrated at midcourt following the game.
"This is a huge win for us because we don't beat Pillow often," Schmidt said. "We hope to see them again somewhere (in the postseason).
"I just think we've worked hard for this and we've wanted this. We've practiced hard so I'm just proud of our youngsters."
Schmidt said the reason why the Lady Mustangs are so tough is because of their aggressive nature and her squad had "to withstand that."
In getting the victory, Schmidt pointed to rebounding as a key. SA had the 39-18 advantage in boards over Pillow.
"Our goal was to out-rebound them and we did that," Schmidt said. "I think that's what we went to the free-throw line so many times because we were so good on the boards."
The Lady Vols made an 11-0 run between the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth to turn an 18-18 tie into a 32-22 lead with 4:09 remaining in the game.
"That was amazing," Schmidt said. "The fact that it was 18-18 in the third quarter was amazing."
Starkville Academy took an 8-6 advantage after the first quarter after a basket by Prestridge.
After the two teams traded buckets to open the second quarter, Prestridge had a steal and score and Tiffany Huddleston added a pair of free throws to help the Lady Vols secure a 14-8 lead with 4:46 left in the first half.
The Lady Mustangs closed the gap to 18-14 at halftime.
Sallie Kate Richardson had a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds in the game to lead SA, while Prestridge chipped in 11 points.
"We were ragged offensively because of their good defense," Schmidt said. "They didn't let Anna Lea Little look at the basket and poor Nora Kathryn Carroll, I put her on their leading scorer so that takes all of her energy, and they were going to give Sallie Kate the basketball inside some.
"Anna Prestridge got the ball up against the press, made the free throws when it counted and 11 points is a big night for her. (Prestridge) is why we are the basketball team we are right now. She's a senior leader and we've got five good seniors."
Prestridge understands what Schmidt expects out of her as one of the seniors.
"I can feel that on the floor, but I just try to be a good role model for the other girls and try to keep up the energy and the hard work," Prestridge said.
The Lady Vols have won all nine of their home games this season and Schmidt said the challenge is to go undefeated in their gym.
Starkville Academy, which plays at Oak Hill today, has two more home games with Parklane on Jan. 27 and Heritage on Jan. 31.
Pillow Academy 53,
Starkville Academy 17
Pillow Academy scored the first eight points of the game and never looked back in controlling the boys game from start to finish.
"I just wasn't happy with our intensity, especially with our starters," Starkville Academy coach Mark Alexander said. "I was pretty frustrated and tried to send a message that if you are not going to play with effort then you are not going to play. We've got to play hard if we are going to have a chance to win."
Carnail Minor had a 3-point field goal to cut the lead to 8-3 in the first quarter, but the visiting Mustangs scored the final 10 points of the frame to take an 18-3 advantage.
Pillow Academy continued to put distance between it and the home team by taking a 38-6 halftime advantage.
Minor led Starkville Academy with seven points.