By Rick Hayes
CENTRALIA — Defense wins championships.
The Lady Rams served notice on Tuesday it would not relinquish its South Seven Conference title without a fight, taking a 40-34 conference victory over arch-rival Centralia.
It was the first time the Lady Rams had won at CHS Gym since December 2007.
“That's quite a dry spell. We're happy to get that monkey off our back,” said Lady Rams coach Jeff Lonnon. “You can throw out the records when we play up there because it's hard to score. We feel fortunate that we got enough points to win.”
Senior guard Clare Ryan gave Mt. Vernon a 5-4 lead halfway through the first quarter and the Lady Rams never trailed. Ryan followed with a trey at the 3:02 mark and guard Cortney Scarbrough added a 3-ball 22 seconds later to give the Rams an 11-4 advantage early on. The seven point lead was matched only by the Lady Rams' 30-23 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Scarbrough led Mt. Vernon with 14 points while Ryan chipped in nine and Hannah Owens contributed eight points.
Centralia's 6-foot center Abbey Holtkamp had half of the Orphan Annies' points, producing 17 points.
Mt. Vernon did an excellent job defensively on Holtkamp, collapsing its zone, forcing up several shots outside the paint.
“Basically, we wanted to keep her from touching the ball as much as possible,” Lonnon said. “I thought we did limit her touches and when she did catch it, we did a good job of keeping her away from the basket.”
He added, “She is definitely an all-conference player. She made some tough shots so that's a credit to her.”
Centralia tied the game at 12-1l early in the second quarter, but Scarbrough hit a baseline runner and added a three-point play later to give the Lady Rams a 19-15 lead at halftime.
Centralia led for the first time at 20-19 when Holtkamp hit from underneath, was fouled, and made the charity toss. The Lady Rams then went on a 8-0 run to resume command of the contest at 27-20. The run was punctuated by a steal and layup from Makiah Rush.
Taking the seven-point lead into the final stanza, the Lady Rams were able to hold off the Orphan Annies by being consistent at the foul line. The Rams were 12-of-20 from the charity stripe while the Orphan Annies were 10-of-16.
“Games are being called closer not. That is a point of emphasis,” Lonnon said. “We have to take advantage of that. We work on taking the ball to the hole to get in the bonus and super bonus. If we score 50 points that's a lot of points for us. We try to get to the line as much as possible.”
Mt. Vernon improved to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the conference while the Orphan Annies fell to 1-7 and 1-2.