PARK HILLS – Although the Central Christmas Tournament does not begin until next week, the home team appears more than ready to defend its title.
Central held South Iron without a field goal during a key five-minute stretch of the third quarter, and earned a 56-45 victory on Thursday night in a clash of the top two girls seeds.
Senior guard Skyler Amonette drained five 3-pointers, and gave the Lady Rebels (9-1) a decisive edge in perimeter production by netting a game-high 25 points and four assists overall.
Caitlyn Holmes added 12 points with seven rebounds. Callie Thurston tallied seven points, seven boards and four assists, and Central converted 12-of-16 free throws in the win.
Sophomore center Jada Brooks scored 12 of her 14 points before halftime, and grabbed nine rebounds for South Iron (7-3), which carries the upcoming No. 2 tourney seed behind the Lady Rebels.
The Lady Panthers committed 10 first-half turnovers, and generated many of their early baskets when able to withstand the active trapping defense of Central.
After two Central players failed to catch a pass in their vicinity, South Iron pulled to within 30-24 on a 50-foot heave by Michaela Ayers that actually fell through the rim before the buzzer sounded.
But Central made an adjustment to limit Brooks’ touches in the post from there, and opened the third quarter on a 9-1 run that Holmes sparked with a putback.
Thurston battled multiple players from the paint to a sideline to control another offensive rebound, and handed off to Amonette for a 3-pointer and 39-25 advantage.
Her final triple produced the largest lead of the night at 52-33 with less than seven minutes left. Five different players then contributed to a closing 12-4 spurt by South Iron.
Ashley Mickan remained on the floor for the duration after picking up her fourth foul on an Amonette drive in the third quarter, and equaled teammates Dara Miller and Ayers with nine points each.
Central introduced its pestering style of pressure from the outset, and mostly used an effective 7-player rotation with Kimmy Wallen and Avery Norris bringing energy off the bench.
Amonette hit an early 3-pointer and pull-up jumper, and Holmes turned her second steal into a pair of free throws to give the Lady Rebels an 11-2 start.
South Iron concluded each of the first three quarters with baskets at the buzzer, and drew to within 15-10 when Brooks cashed in a second-chance follow.
She would add four more field goals over the next eight minutes, including a tough shot over multiple defenders to make the margin 23-16.
Amonette responded with a big perimeter strike, then stole a skip pass before it could reach Brooks, and dribbled in for a transition layup.
Karissa Belfield received perhaps the most impressive assist of the game, and scored through the lane when Amonette fired an accurate dart on the run from about 25 feet away.
Freshman Kaley Kimball made her lone shot attempt by swishing a 3-pointer from the right side. Norris added two late steals for the Lady Rebels.
Central will face Bismarck while South Iron meets Fredericktown in opening-round action on Tuesday.
Valle Catholic 57, Bismarck 21
BISMARCK – Valle Catholic raced to a 57-21 road victory over Bismarck while improving to 2-0 in the MAAA Small-School division.
Sydni Basler netted a game-high 18 points for the Lady Warriors (4-5, 2-0).
Brooklynn Fitzwater had 10 points, and Ashley Turner chipped in six for Bismarck (0-7, 0-1).