Mills, Stout power LCA girls past Liberty
Avery Mills saw every one of her first five shots miss the target early in the second quarter. First it was an attempt inside the arch. Then came four straight misguided attempts from 3-point land.
Despite the fact that their team didn’t have much padding on the scoreboard at the time, the Junior Guards weren’t worried about empty runs on the Liberty Christian gym court. She knew her team was behind her, along with the home crowd, so the moment she had a few yards to clear, she unleashed another from a long distance.
It went in. So does the next 3-pointer and the next.
Mills caught fire and became the spark the Bulldogs needed to keep them from visiting Liberty, a newly minted rival from the Seminole District who entered the night with an undefeated mark.
Over a 4½-minute streak late in the half, LCA went on a 13-0 run coined by Mills and the Bulldogs capitalized on their superiority in color – courtesy of 6-foot-3 Emmy Stout, a junior -Transfer from California – running away from the Lady Minutemen, 63-36.
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“It was a game against a really good opponent. We knew they would do their best,” LCA coach Heather Stephens said of LHS (10-1, 3-1 Seminole), “and we knew we had to be focused and play as a team to win tonight to win.”
The game plan for the LCA (6:4, 4:0) looked from the start to focus on the fight among the expected basket teams and fans. Stout, playing for the first time in the district against someone who was close in size to her, got the first touch offensively for the Bulldogs. She went straight to Liberty freshman Shania Brown, who is 6-foot-1, got the basket and drew a foul.
Stout converted the first three of her 18 points at the free-throw line. She finished as the game’s second-top scorer, behind Mills (26 points).
The majority of Stout’s (13) points came in the second half. She went off the field 6 out of 8 in those 16 minutes, rebounding both misses on possession and eventually taking the points of the second chance and one foul in the game.
Stout’s task at the edge got a whole lot easier after the first two frames. Brown committed two fouls in the first quarter. Her third came at 5:33 in the second, and she was booed for a costly fourth with less than a minute to go in the first half.
After missing three minutes with foul problems in the second quarter, Brown was relegated to the bench for the first more than five minutes of the third. In that span, LCA’s halftime lead increased from 25:13 to 44:18.
“You live and learn,” said LHS coach Justin Waldron of Brown, who entered Thursday’s seminole clash with undefeated results and averaging a double-double.
Brown has accomplished this feat in each of their first 10 varsity games. This series ended against Stout.
Brown averaged eight points and seven rebounds (more than 10 points and six rebounds below the average she started the night with), with most of those points coming in the last 10 minutes, with the game’s outcome long decided.
The young striker had six of her eight points in the closing stages. She scored just two points in the first half – on two free throws – and went 0-for-4 off the field. Three of those errors were due to stout blocks (the LCA standout had six on the night).
“It was super exciting to compete against someone my size so I could get better and they could get better,” said Stout, who also had a 10-rebound double-double.
Outside of Brown, LHS’s only significant contributions came from Cierra St. John, who scored 17 points, including 12 from distance.
St. John’s First 3 came impressively in the second quarter. She was hit hard and fell to the left but emptied the basket anyway. St. John, a sophomore guard, finished the four-point game and then notated the LHS’s next three points on another 3-pointer that looked pure and effortless.
The triple ended the game at 11. But then Mills — who also finished with 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals — got to work.
Mills’ three consecutive 3s provided all of the breakup LCA needed to finish the game.
“Avery got hot. I can’t say anything bad about her,” Waldron said. “Girl can shoot.”
After the game, the junior, known for her shooting and driving skills, said that during the sequence she tried to reflect the mindset she saw in one of the world’s top shooters.
“One of my favorite players is Steph Curry, and with him he misses about 10 shots in a row and just keeps shooting,” said Mills, who went 9-of-18 from the field and 4-of-10-from-3-point range. “He gets into a rhythm.
“…My teammates, they didn’t want to let me down, and Coach. They said, ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting.’ Their trust in me gave me the confidence to keep shooting and to start making.”
Mills’ 13 first-half points, including the nine she scored on the crucial 13-0 run in the second quarter, matched LHS’ performance as a team in the early frames. She and Stout outplayed Liberty by eight points that night.
Six other LCA players made it into the scoring column, and the Bulldogs recouped 16 turnovers (vs. nine for LHS) by scoring 45.3%. They kept Liberty off the field on 22.2% shots and became the first opponent to prevent LHS from scoring at least 50 points.
Liberty Christian 63, Liberty 36
LIBERTY (10-1, 3-1 Seminole)
Sigei 6, Adams 4, Cierra St John 17, S Brown 8, T Brown 1. Overall 12 7-14 36.
LIBERTY CHRISTIAN (6-4, 4-0 Seminole)
Avery Mills 26, Jenkins 3, Rivard 5, Davis 1, Laslie 2, Emmy Stout 18, Christopher 4, Grinstead 4. Overall 24 9-13 63.
3-point goals: Liberty 5 (Sigei, St. John 4). LCA 6 (Mills 4, Jenkins, Rivard).
Highlights: LHS – Sigei 2 steals; St. John 2 steals, 2 blocks; S. Brown 7 rebounds, 1 steal. LCA – Mills 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals; Stout 10 rebounds, 6 blocks, 1 steal.
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