CENTERVILLE – It will be seven weeks this Friday since the Centerville girls basketball played its first game of the season.
Five of those weeks have been spent on the sidelines with opponents have to back out of games due to COVID-19 issues. When the opponents have shown up, the Redettes have so far taken care of business.
Mickey Stephens and Claire Mathews combined to score 45 points in three quarters on Saturday as Centerville returned to the court 22 days after their most recent game, rolling to a 60-27 non-conference win over Moravia. There was little rust shown by the Redettes, who had South Central Conference games with Chariton and Clarke postponed in mid-December after a 55-24 win over Albia lifted Centerville to a 4-0 start to the season.
Centerville made it 5-0 on Saturday by turning defensive stops into instant offense. Stephens led the Redettes with 25 points and eight steals, including four breakaway baskets off Moravia turnovers.
"In the second half, we really started to get dialed in," Stephens said. "Our trap really seemed to cause a lot of issues.
"We like to play the game fast. That's kind of our weapon," Mathews added. "That's how we win ball games, going fast and out-running the other team."
Mathews and Stephens teamed up to put Centerville ahead for good midway through the first quarter with a steal by Mathews leading to a lay-up for Stephens, giving the Redettes a 7-6 lead. Stephens would add a pair of free throws, again created by a transition opportunity, before finishing the first quarter with a lay-up off a pass from Abby Drew completing a 9-0 run that gave the Redettes a 13-6 lead.
"I felt pretty good for the most part. We had a scrimmage (against Ottumwa) this past week. I think that helped us a lot to get our legs back into shape," Stephens said.
Centerville would ultimately force Moravia (5-4) into 41 turnovers in 32 minutes. Stephens scored on breakaway lay-ups created by steals at mid-court forced by a trapping defense that gave the Redettes a 17-7 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter.
"We were just a little bit herky-jerky in the first half. There were a lot of fouls called, which makes it hard to get into a rhythm," Centerville head girls basketball coach Nic Belloma said. "When there's that many starts and stops, it's hard to get any continuity. It made for a pretty ugly first half."
Starts and stops have been something the Redettes have had to adjust to so far this season. Besides the postponement of the Chariton and Clarke games in mid-December, Centerville had an unexpected two-week break between their season opener on Nov. 20 against Iowa Valley and their South Central Conference opener at Davis County on Dec. 4 with potential games against Ottumwa and Fort Madison also called off when both teams had their own COVID-related issues.
"The kids are tired of practicing. You spend so much time preparing for a game and the next day, they cancel the game on you," Belloma said. "It's been all COVID-related and it hasn't been us, which is the frustrating thing, because you figure those issues are probably going to hit us at some point this season.
"It's boring to just practice two hours every day. It's nice to finally get out here and execute during a game."
Nine different Centerville players recorded at least one of the team's 24 steals in the contest. Gracie Hoffman, Kim Chandanais and Isabel Hanes each scored six points to lead the Mohawks in Saturday's loss.
"Centerville is a good team. They're big, they're fast, they're quick and they're coached well," Moravia head girls basketball coach Derek Reischauer said. "I thought we did some good things, just not enough of them. We have to learn how to play harder and play smarter, but we're not going to run into too many teams as tough as Centerville."
While Moravia hosts Orient-Macksburg on Tuesday night, Centerville will look to establish itself as the team to beat in the South Central Conference this season. The Redettes head to three-time defending SCC champion Knoxville on Tuesday night in a battle of unbeaten teams looking for a leg up atop the conference standings.
"This is the first chance since I've been in high school playing basketball that we've had a chance to beat Knoxville," Mathews said. "I think we have a good chance of beating them this year."