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Stevens scores career-high 33 points in Spartans’ win


CARTHAGE — Just when it looked like Zakiya Saunders might will Carthage back into the game, Austin Stevens snatched it back for South Jefferson.

The junior scored 14 unanswered points midway through the third quarter, breaking open the game and lifting the Spartans to a 52-35 Frontier League girls basketball crossover victory over the Comets on Friday night at Carthage High School.

Stevens finished with a career-high 33 points.

She scored 20, on 9-for-13 shooting, in the second half. She added nine rebounds and six steals.

“Stevens absolutely dominated us from the inside and out, because that’s the type of player she is,” Carthage coach Randi Smith said. “She’s a double threat because she can hit it from the outside, then when you get out on her, she’s around you and to the hoop, and she goes aggressively to the basket.”

“I’m just really proud of my team,” Stevens said. “I was kind of hard on them the game before, and we really stepped up this game and played to our potential.”

Carthage trailed 26-13 at halftime, but opened the third quarter strong to get back within striking distance at 28-20.

Then, Stevens took over.

She made six consecutive shots during the run, displaying her versatile offensive skill set. She hit a 3-pointer, drove to the rim and laid it in while getting fouled. She then posted up and hit a pair of short turn-around jumpers in the paint, came up with a steal and scored on a breakaway.

By the time Saunders scored to stop the run from her counterpart, South Jefferson’s lead ballooned to 42-20.

“It looked like we were in the driver seat and as we said in the huddle, (Saunders) is a Division I kid, she’s going to come out here and try to take it over, and she did, she got them back into it,” said South Jefferson coach Pat Bassett, whose team improved to 3-0. ”And then, Austin’s a pretty good player herself.”

Saunders finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Comets (1-2). She shot 7-of-13 from the field despite constant double teams.

South Jefferson used its best on-ball defender, point guard Brooke VanCoughnett, to key on Saunders and try to keep the ball out of her hands.

When Saunders did get the ball, there was always another defender, or two, or three, or four, ready to help.

“This game, we were really focusing on the little things that we’re supposed to do, like talking and having happy feet, which is getting on your toes on defense.” Stevens said. “I like to get us all together and remind each other of that throughout the game because last game against IHC, we didn’t do those things at all. So we really made those our game keys.”

The 17-point margin of victory is smaller than any of South Jefferson’s regular-season league games last season.

In last year’s “A/B” crossover playoff final, Carthage lost to South Jefferson by just six points.

“Carthage has been kind of a rival lately because they got (Saunders) and she’s a phenomenal player,” Stevens said. “It drove us to do better tonight I think.”

South Jefferson sophomore Marisa Clark added seven points, while no one else scored more than four.

VanCoughnett provided five rebounds and six assists.

Freshman Lexi Smith scored eight points for Carthage, and no one else had more than two.

Carthage has lost two straight after a tight 41-38 loss to Indian River on Nov. 30.

“I think the girls are starting to get a little more mentally tough,” Smith said. “They don’t like to lose, and they need to understand what they have to do to play at this level and compete with a South Jeff team. We’re not there yet.

“We’re not there physically and we’re not there mentally. The goal is to get there, quickly.”

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