Visiting Southport got off to a 6-0 lead over Terre Haute North in Conference Indiana girls high school basketball Saturday afternoon, sophomore forward Cece Mitchell getting a three-point play, then making a 3-point shot.
Might have been the worst mistake the Cardinals made all day. Mitchell was being guarded by Zoe Stewart, who responded with a 31-point effort that helped the Patriots to an easy 69-36 decision.
“I knew I had to step up [after that],” Stewart said after the game. “I was slacking a little bit, too much help side [defense, from where she got many of her nine steals during the game] instead of paying attention to my girl. That motivated me.”
“It helps when Zoe gets hot like that,” coach Matt Millington of the Patriots said. “That makes any offense look good.” The Patriots shot 61% from the field for the game.
Southport still led 9-5, but the Patriots caught and passed the Cardinals with a 7-0 Stewart run — a 3-pointer, a steal and layup and a driving layup. North led 18-13 at the first stop, and then the Patriots got really hot.
Stewart got 10 more points in the first two minutes of the second quarter, giving her 20 after 10 minutes, and finished the half by hitting her last nine field goal attempts in a row. On one of them, following a steal by Karson Hart, she was knocked to the floor along the baseline while flipping a shot toward the basket — which swished, of course. That shot pushed the Patriot lead past the 20-point threshold at 36-15.
But Stewart wasn’t the only one. In the second quarter the Patriots were 11 for 12 from the field — the only miss was by Mallory Millington, who rebounded her shot and scored anyway — and 5 for 6 at the foul line. Proving she was human, Stewart had the missed free throw.
And as good as they were offensively, the Patriots might have been just as good defensively that quarter. Southport was forced into nine turnovers as Stewart, Millington and A.J. Campbell each had two steals and Anslee Michael had a steal, her second blocked shot of the game (she’s 5-foot-3) and drew a charging foul that excited her so much she was whistled for a technical foul for celebrating it.
At one point in the game, Anslee Michael was guarding her person zealously as usual — except that the Patriots had the ball at the time.
“Every day in practice, every game, I strive to be the best defensive player,” said the four-year starter, laughing because she’d hoped no one had noticed her “extra” defensive work. “I bring energy to the team with my defense, and I want to have my girl score the least points as possible.”
“To accomplish some of our goals in February, we have to play good defense,” Matt Millington said after the game. “We’re making progress, and we still have a few weeks [to get even better].”
Stewart’s 31 points and nine steals were complemented by 10 points each from Campbell and Halie Gilbert, who didn’t miss a shot and led all rebounders with eight.
“She hadn’t shot very well the last two games,” coach Millington said of Stewart.
“For a couple of games, I’ve been cold,” Stewart agreed, “so I felt like this was a breakthrough. I felt like, ‘I’m back.’ My first on-fire game.”
Mitchell led Southport with 12 points.
Anslee Michael and Sandy Shepard celebrated their Senior Day prior to the tipoff.