With only two experienced starters back from last year’s state finalist team, St. Anne’s-Belfield girls basketball coach Phil Stinnie knew his team would need some time to find some continuity on both ends of the floor.
The Saints discovered that magic Tuesday night as they rolled to a 71-54 home win over Saint John Paul the Great Catholic in their season opener.
Jakaya Braxton scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead STAB (1-0).
“Jakaya is a kid who’s locked in,” Stinnie said. “She doesn’t come outside of her comfort zone; she stays in her pocket. She makes the right decisions, takes the good shots, and she makes us better.”
STAB struggled to find a rhythm offensively early in the game. The Saints led 7-5 midway through the first quarter before Braxton and the second unit gave the team a lift. The junior knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to give the Saints a 17-15 lead after one quarter.
The momentum carried over into the second quarter as the Saints got hot from behind the arc. STAB hit six 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the quarter, including two from Sabrina Lewis, during a 20-6 run that gave the Saints a 37-21 lead. The margin continued to grow as freshman Maddie Rice chipped in six of her 10 points over the final two minutes to give the Saints a commanding 44-28 lead at intermission.
Stinnie said having two complete units that can come in and score consistently is key, especially this early in the season.
“That’s the key to this team, we have so many weapons,” Stinnie said. “If they understand how important it is to support each other, on and off the floor, offense and defense, we can have that offensive power and that many points at all times.”
The second half was more of the same as the Saints continued to pull away. Sallie Vick and Rice tallied four points apiece to give St. Anne’s a 54-29 lead with 3:01 left. Saint John Paul the Great (1-1) was unable to get back in contention as STAB rolled to the win.
Daija Bennett tallied 13 points and two rebounds in the win for the Saints. Kymora Johnson finished with nine points, six rebounds and three assists. Sabrina Lewis added nine points and Khamare Steppe chipped in eight points and two boards off the bench.
For Stinnie, Tuesday’s opener was a good litmus test for his team. There were several things the Saints could work on, including taking care of the basketball.
“The lack of experience, those were the mistakes,” he said. “We have a lot of talent. We just have to learn to harness it and understand that we’re only going to be as good as our teammate beside them.”
But overall, the STAB coach was pleased with what he saw.
“When you have a young group that has a lot of talent, they think you think you can win games by themselves,” Stinnie said. “The thing we’ve got to do now is use each other.”