Jackson faces big challenge with St. Joe's

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

The Indians carry an eight-game winning streak into tonight's game against the third-ranked team in Class 5.

The Jackson girls basketball team has won more than 20 games in each of coach Sam Sides' first three seasons at the helm, continuing to build on a rich Indians tradition.

The Indians have made it to the state final four seven times, all since 1992. Jackson has yet to win a state title but has three runner-up and three third-place finishes.

"I think our tradition, our program has been as successful as anyone," Sides said. "We do it a lot without any real height. We just do it with hard work and with kids who love to play basketball."

For all of its recent success, Jackson had come up short of a district title the past two seasons but remedied that with a 54-51 victory against Farmington last Thursday in the Class 5 District 1 finals.

An eighth trip to the state final four will take a monumental effort from the Indians, who will face St. Joseph's Academy at 6:30 tonight in the sectional round at the Farmington Civic Center.

"We know it's a tough road, but if it were easy anyone could do it," Sides said. "Hopefully, we're up for the challenge. I know I am."

St. Joseph's boasts 11 final four appearances, including six state titles. The most recent title for the Angels, who won four in a row from 1991 to 1994, came in 2004.

This season St. Joseph's is ranked No. 3 in Class 5, with its only in-state losses coming to No. 1 Incarnate Word (twice) and No. 2 Notre Dame de Sion.

Among the Angels' victories were blowout wins against Nerinx Hall and district final opponent Webster Groves, two teams which beat Jackson this season.

Area squads Poplar Bluff and Notre Dame each lost to St. Joe's by more than 30 points.

Senior guard Mackenzie Stirmlinger leads St. Joe's in scoring at 16.6 points a game, shoots better than 90 percent from the free throw line and has a team-high 65 3-pointers. Fellow seniors Kelsey Luna and Jenna Fernandez are averaging 11.5 and 11.4 points, respectively.

"Usually, they have a lot of talent, good size and players that can shoot," Sides said. "They have players that come off the bench just as good as the girls out there. This year's no different."

Size again will be a concern for the Indians, although St. Joseph's will by no means be the biggest team Jackson has faced this season. Stirmlinger and Fernandez each stand 5-foot-11, and St. Joseph's is led in rebounding by 6-1 sophomore Myrtie Reilly. She averages just five points a game, though, and 6-3 freshman Megan Grace is averaging less than two points a game.

Jackson's tallest player is 5-10 center Amanda Peiffer.

"For our size, we rebound well, and typically we do a good job blocking out," Sides said. "If we don't block out well [tonight], we'll be in trouble."

The Indians go into tonight's game with an eight-game winning streak. Jackson's success has come in large part to a stingy defense that has limited opponents to an average of less than 40 points a game this season.

Offensively, the senior duo of Bobbie Jones and Kylie Werner have been the main threats. Jones averages more than 15 points a game, and Werner averages about 14 points a game. Peiffer is also averaging in double figures for the Indians.

"Different times, different people have stepped up," Sides said. "It's going to take everyone for us to be successful."

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