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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Eagles hope experience will be key to tournament run

Sunday, February 3, 2013

South Putnam junior Aubrey Nichols (20) defends Danville sophomore Allie Lake. The defense of Nichols will be key to slowing down the attack of Speedway's star guard Allison Nash. [Order this photo]
The South Putnam girls' basketball team has been there before. It has six seniors who reached the sectional final last season.

But it's a new year, and the Eagles have struggled. They're 6-13, and at times they have looked out of sync.

"All year long, when we've lined up to teams, it's been our inside presence that's been to our advantage," SPHS coach Lindsey Blackman said. "It's the identity that we tried to have from the beginning, but we had to work on the fundamentals of passing first. I feel like we're getting to that point ... (In the second-to-last game) we did a great job at Clay City of trying to get the ball into Leanna and let her do her work on the inside."

Senior Leanna Masters is the Eagles' leading scorer and rebounder.

She can be dominant when she's on the court, but the Eagles have, at times, seemed to forget about her and the interior presence of their other forwards.

"Sometimes our inside disappears," Blackman said. "We can't completely rely on our outside. We need to have a nice balance of our outside-inside game."

The inside will be especially important in the Eagles' opening game against Speedway.

The Sparkplugs' star guard Allison Nash has been tearing up her opponents and forcing coaches to game plan for her.

"We're just kind of starting to get to know Speedway through some game film," Blackman said. "We're aware of Nash on the outside. We've been able to see some film from Greencastle (a 63-59 Speedway win), kind of see how they were able to slow her down (24 points, 10-of-19 from the field).

"I won't say stop her, because that's probably not going to happen. The goal is to slow her down as much as possible and try to take advantage of our size on the inside."

Nash is averaging 22.9 points per game, and leads the Sparkplugs in steals and assists, but Speedway is more than a one-girl team.

Seniors Tiffani Adkins and Caulin McGraw each average close to 10 rebounds per game.

It will take a team effort to slow the Sparkplugs down and keep them off the glass.

"We've got to be able to play defense and limit Speedway to one shot," Blackman said.

If South Putnam can control the paint, they should have the scoring to keep pace.

Senior guard Mallory Cash has proven she can be a game-changing, catch-and-shoot scorer. Senior point guard Mattie Varvel can put up points as well, when she penetrates and the Eagles space the floor.

Speedway (12-8) will be favored to win and advance to play Cloverdale on Friday, but Blackman said she isn't worried about the outside expectations, and she isn't worried about playing the opening game on Speedway's home floor.

"Most people probably wouldn't like our chances, but I like the side of the bracket that we're on," she said. "I like playing the first game. I like giving a challenge that first game out of the box and trying to catch them off guard."

Win or lose, Blackman said, the Eagles will be successful if they leave it all on the court.

"For us to be successful, and for us to feel good leaving the tournament -- leaving the season -- would be, we gave everything that we had in the end and we left it all out there," she said. "Whether it be a win or a loss in that last game of the year, it's that we gave everything that we had and we worked together and tried our hardest."

If the Eagles can do that against Speedway they'll be in the game.

With the experience they've gained throughout the year in close games (they're 3-5 in games decided by six points or less), if they're in the game at the end, the Eagles will know how to win.

South Putnam senior Leanna Masters skies up for a jumpshot over Eminence in a game earlier this year. Masters' rebounding will be key on both ends of the court in the sectional game against Speedway.
(Banner Graphic/GRANT WIEMAN) [Order this photo]
"The games that we have been able to win, we stayed in until the end and found a way to pull it out," Blackman said.

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