CENTERVILLE — Rachel George kept it simple on Friday night.
As a result, the Centerville junior came up big for the Redettes in the biggest game of the season. George racked up a double-double with a game-high 20 points and 13 rebounds, helping Centerville finish the first half of South Central Conference play with a hard-fought 54-44 win over Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont giving the defending SCC champions the outright lead heading into the second half of conference play.
"I just told myself that I wasn't going to force anything like I've been trying to do in the past couple of games," George said. "I was going to take what the defense gave me and let the game come to me. That allowed me to play with much more confidence than what I've been playing with."
George entered Friday's showdown of SCC co-leaders having been held to just four points in the past two games, including no points scored Tuesday in a 41-29 home loss to Knoxville that allowed EBF to catch the Redettes at the top of the conference standings with identical 4-1 records. The Rockets officially gained a share of the SCC lead just 24 hours earlier, edging Knoxville 51-47 in a game that was originally postponed back on Dec. 17.
"I think, in the end, Centerville was fresh and we weren't," EBF head girls basketball coach Tony Fenton said. "We really struggled in the fourth quarter. We were heavy in the legs. They got some run-outs on us and our passing just wasn't as crisp in the fourth."
That late drought came after EBF opened the game committing five turnovers on its first five possession. Despite the offensive miscues, Centerville could only manage three George free throws allowing Klyn to tie the game, rattling in a 3-pointer on the first shot attempt of the game by the Rockets.
"I think our young kids were worked up at the beginning of the game and (Centerville's) quickness caught us off guard a little bit," Fenton said. "I think we responded well. We played well in the second and third quarters and got the lead."
EBF was able to erase what had been a 13-5 lead for the Redettes set up by 10 turnovers in the first quarter by the Rockets and nine points in the same stretch by George. Besides scoring points, George was able to provide a presence in the post that made shots inside by the Rockets tough to finish with four steals and four assists by George keeping the momentum in Centerville's favor throughout the first half.
"Rachel likes to go out there and shoot the ball on the perimeter. We like having her out there to shoot it from there, too. This was a game where she established herself as the best post player on the floor," Centerville head girls basketball coach Nic Belloma said. "She kind of forces those perimeter shots. We've told her that teams are going to start countering it with a triangle-and-two defense. That's how EBF started. We parked Rachel right in post and used her size to our advantage. That got (EBF) back into a regular zone and that opened things up for us.
"I've been trying to do things I thought the team needed. I'm trying to get away from that and making sure to take advantage of what the defense is going to give me," George added.
Whitney Klyn and Ava Eastlick were able to rally the Rockets in the third quarter. Eastlick, after struggling with turnovers at times in the first half, opened the second scoring the first five points setting up the Rockets to take the lead for the first time on a lay-up by Aliya Wagamon. Eastlick and Klyn found each other on consecutive possessions for consecutive EBF 3-pointer, opening a 34-30 lead for the Rockets with three minutes left in the period.
Allison Casteel would counter for the Redettes, sinking a pair of 3-pointers from the far wing during a 9-0 response giving Centerville a five-point lead early in the fourth. After Klyn scored the next three points for EBF, cutting the Redette lead to 39-37, Centerville would pull away for good scoring the next 11 points as Mickey Stephens found George on an inbounds pass for a basket before going coast-to-coast off a defensive rebound for the first two of the senior's seven points in the final period.
"We knew this was going to be a battle," Stephens said after producing a solid seven-point, six-assist, four-rebound, three-steal floor game. "It was tough, but we executed. It's going to be like this all the way to the end of the season. It's going to be a battle to win this conference title again."
Klyn finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and six blocked shots for the Rockets. Eastlick added 12 points and four assists while Molly Shafer worked her way to an 11-point, eight-rebound effort inside. Casteel scored 11 points for the Redettes.
Centerville (9-2, 5-1 SCC) is back in action Saturday afternoon at Moravia. EBF (9-3, 4-2 SCC) returns home to host Albia kicking off the second half of conference play on Tuesday night.