NEW MARKET — Southmont has had a bit of an up and down season, but enter the state tournament in probably the best spot of any of the area girls basketball teams.
The Mounties closed the regular season at 6-15 and will face off against Crawfordsville (3-19) in the opening game tonight at 6 p.m., a team they beat 51-43 last week. And with a repeat victory, they will face Lebanon in the first semi-final on Friday, a team they lost a close one to 36-31 last Friday. Most importantly though, Southmont is the host of this year’s local Class 3A Sectional. Many raise arms in debate about the sectional being played on one of the competing teams floors, but there’s no doubt it has a bit of an edge. Southmont coach Dustin Oakley hopes the Mounties will be one of the teams to beat this week in the six-team sectional. “We want to be in the sectional championship on Saturday evening and want to give ourselves a chance to win a title for our program,” he said. “Our staff and players are here to win championships, that’s why we work so hard during and out of season.” The Mountie’s last sectional title came back in 2014 in Class 2A. They have never won a 3A sectional. Over the last four games, Southmont is 2-2, but Oakley believes they are playing their best basketball of the season heading into a rubber-match game with Crawfordsville tonight. “In my opinion, we are playing our best basketball right now,” he said. “Our last five games is what I expected from this team all season. We have found our team toughness and I hope it continues this week. We have won a couple games during that stretch and a couple bad quarters have cost us a couple more wins against Covington and North Putnam.” In the first meeting between the Athenians and Mounties, Crawfordsville was victorious 59-51 in November at the Sugar Creek Classic, while Southmont returned the favor last week. One of the noticeable differences last week was the size advantage for the Mounties. Senior Lilly Ward has been Southmont’s best player all season, but the emergence of six-foot freshman Belle Miller in the second half of the season has made all the difference. The duo combined for 25 points in the Mounties win over the Athenians last Wednesday, including a double-double by Miller. “We have used the Ward/Miller combo throughout the season,” Oakley said. “I think it has taken everyone time for them to get adjusted to each other’s style of play. Them in the lineup at the same time has definitely been effective for us lately. I wish they had a couple more years to play together. Our expectations for them is to dominate the paint every minute they are on the floor.” If Southmont is to get past Crawfordsville, Oakley is confident the Mounties will be able to push Lebanon to the brink in a rematch from last Friday. “We beat Lebanon in almost every statistical category at their place and lost by five,” he said. “We had a terrible shooting night and then free throws was the difference. They went 14-28 and we went 2-12. We can’t expect to win games when we shoot that poorly.” During his entire three-year tenure at Southmont, Oakley has hung his hat on defense, and believes that has been the difference over the last few weeks of the regular season. “We are starting to play championship style team defense,” he said. “That’s all I have been worried about the last couple weeks. Our staff is trying to get them in positions to compete and have chances to win games. Our players have shown us that they can defend and rebound at a high level.” Nitty Gritty Southmont won the last meeting 51-43. Crawfordsville owns the series last 15 years 17-10. The Mounties average 40.4 points per game, and give up 51.8 points per game. The Athenians average 37.9 points per game, and give up 58.5 points per game. Lilly Ward leads Southmont with 11 points per game. Lauren Kellerman leads Crawfordsville with 13.8 points per game.