CENTERVILLE — Winning a second straight South Central Conference title isn't going to be easy for the Centerville Redettes.
By the narrowest of margins, Centerville passed its first test as the reigning SCC champions on Friday. Mickey Stephens scored on a breakaway lay-up with 15 seconds left as the Redettes survived not one, but two potential game-winning shots by Reese Humphrey to hold on for a thrilling 51-50 win over Davis County in the conference opener for both teams.
"I think a lot of the conference games are going to be somewhat like this," Centerville head girls basketball coach Nic Belloma said. "There's a lot more balance in the conference on the girls side this year. Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont's awfully good. Chariton's awfully good. I think we're going to okay and I think Davis County proved they're going to be okay.
"It was good to see the girls come through to make a few plays with the game on the line to win it. Davis County snuck back in it, got the lead late. They took a shot they probably shouldn't have and it led to a huge basket on the other end for Mickey."
The shot was set up when Humphrey, having made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 52.3 seconds left, drove down to the baseline with Davis County in possession of the basketball leading 50-49. Rather than hold the ball to force a Redette foul, or even burn one of two remaining timeouts, Humphrey went aggressively towards the hoop where Centerville senior Rachel George was waiting defensively.
In her attempt to stop, Humphrey lost control of the basketball. Fearing a travel, or double dribble, Humphrey threw up a wild shot that George easily rebounded before making the outlet pass to Stephens leading to the breakaway lay-up.
"I was surprised," George said. "I thought they would try to hold the ball. They went in and tried to shoot it. I just tried to do my job and grab the rebound.
"When I looked up, I saw Mickey. All I thought was 'Run, Mickey. Run.'"
Stephens talked about the opportunity created by George's 14th rebound.
"It was definitely nerve-racking," Stephens said of her game-winning basket. "As soon as I saw Rachel get that rebound, I took off. I knew she'd get the ball up to me. I figured we had a good chance of taking the lead.
"At the moment, it was all about instinct. After the moment, I kind of thought it meant a little bit more."
Stephens and George combined to score 33 points, pull in 21 rebounds, dish out 10 assists, collect seven steals and block three shots. George finished with 14 points and 14 boards for a double-double, playing well enough that Davis County head coach Jeff Graves could be heard throughout Lakeview Gymnasium throughout multiple timeouts in the fourth quarter imploring the Mustangs to 'locate George' on each Centerville possession.
"Most of the time, it can be a little frustrating because I just want to get the ball in my hands," George said. "Honestly, that's how I'd play our team defensively. I'd pack it in on me and Mickey to try and stop us."
There proved to be one flaw in that defensive game plan, however. George stepped out to hita pair of 3-pointers, showing incredible range for the six-foot forward.
"I've always kind of had a good 3-point shot. It's one of those things my dad taught me how to shoot," George said. "I've continued to work on it and I've gotten pretty good at it."
Davis County, coming off three losses by a combined 70 points last season against the Redettes, still had a chance to knock off the defending conference champions in the final seconds. Humphrey, having just hit a go-ahead 3-pointer two possessions earlier, narrowly missed on a second go-ahead 3-pointer within five seconds left.
The battle for the rebound led to a Centerville foul with 0.8 seconds left, giving Davis County (1-2, 0-1 SCC) one more chance to knock off the Redettes. Humphrey caught the inbounds pass on the baseline and got a clean look off that hit the front of the rim and bounced away rather than bouncing through the hoop for the game-winning basket.
"We'd take that shot to win a game every day," Graves said. "We played very well. We were much better shooting the ball. I like how we played defense. We still need to be a little stronger with the ball and do a better job defensively locating shooters, but we kept coming back."
Macy Hill led Davis County with a double-double, scoring a game-high 17 points while hauling in 10 rebounds. After facing another tough conference test in unbeaten (4-0) Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont on Tuesday, the Mustangs will step out of conference this Saturday for a trip to Wayne.
"We lost so many games last season in the fourth quarter where we couldn't come back," Graves said. "We made that comeback and I thought we would be on the winning end of it. We got a pretty decent shot to win it. I'm very pleased with the way the girls have played."
Centerville (3-0, 1-0 SCC) had a much easier home win in a non-conference victory over Washington. Stephens added 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to lead the Redettes to a 54-33 victory over the Demons.
The Redettes return to SCC action on Friday, hosting Albia. It'll be yet another challenger trying to dethrone Centerville from the top of the conference mountain.
"It's definitely different this year," Stephens said. "We've lost some key players, but we're still holding our own. I think we've got a good chance to defend our title."