Rogers’ Zia Cooke, left, and Start’s Nadia Dumas wrestle for a loose ball during Friday’s City League game. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
Start did something on Friday night that no other City League girls basketball team had done in years.
The Spartans dealt defending five-time CL champion Rogers a defeat.
Start — the favorite to win the CL — pulled away from Rogers midway through the fourth quarter to score a 55-44 victory on the Rams’ home court.
IN PICTURES: Start 55, Rogers 44
The senior-led Spartans (8-1, 4-0 City League) pushed the Rams (6-3, 4-1) around the basket — early and often — with a clear size advantage in the frontcourt.
It was a case of payback to the Rams, who reigned supreme in the City League for half a decade by leaning on a big and talented frontcourt previously stocked with players who moved on to Division I programs.
“I told the girls you have to execute, and I want the ball inside,” Start coach Leon Kynard said of the Spartans’ game plan. “We can always get [jump shots].
“The thing in the past was to let [us] shoot. Some of our kids got some good outside shots — but at the same time, I thought Rogers didn’t have enough bigs to battle with us.”
It showed aplenty, whether the Spartans were limiting the Rams to one shot by crashing the boards or whether they were getting second-chance baskets after coming down with offensive rebounds.
However, the dominance around the basket showed the most with the Spartans living at the foul line, particularly, 5-foot-8 senior Mariah White, who finished with a team-high 17 points and team-best nine rebounds.
White led the Spartans’ foul-shooting barrage. She made 11 of 24 free throws during a game in which Start finished 22 of 45 on free throws compared to a 10-for-16 effort by Rogers.
White’s struggles early at the foul line, she went 4-for-12 in the first half, was offset by a strong showing in the fourth quarter. She scored eight points in the fourth quarter, including a 4-for-8 effort from the foul line, which helped the Spartans outscore the Rams 27-15 during the final period.
White — who also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds during the win — said the Spartans remained confident even after trailing the Rams by as much as six early in the second half.
“It’s a confidence builder, and everybody on the team stepped up, and that’s what I’m most proud of,” White said.
Michae’la Perdue, a 6-foot senior, scored 13 points, and Nadia Dumas, a 5-10 senior, added 10 points and seven rebounds for Start.
The Spartans now sit atop the CL all alone halfway through the league schedule.
The game was tied at 36 after Rogers’ Lauren Smith nailed a 3-pointer with just over five minutes to play.
However, the Spartans responded by outscoring the Rams 19-8 the rest of the way.
“We just had to settle down and do what we had to do,” Dumas said. “Our advantage was that we’re bigger than them, so we had to get it in the post more and drive at them because we knew they were going to foul us.
“We knew what we had to do.”
Rogers sophomore Zia Cooke finished with a team-high 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds. But she was guilty of seven turnovers and was held to four points after halftime.
Geionna Hollingsworth added 13 points for the Rams, who took a 23-19 lead into the break.
“It was a tough game tonight,” Rogers coach Lamar Smith said. “This game could have gone either way, but you have to give Start credit. They finished it, and we came up short.
“They went inside on us. We’ve got to get a little tougher inside. We broke down on some things. It was a tough game for the Rams tonight.”
Start’s Mariah White, left, Mahogany Jackson, center, and Nadia Dumas celebrate after Jackson hit a shot. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON