JACKSON — Regardless of what the regular season throws his way, Alexander coach Jeff Grinstead always preaches the importance of being ready for the postseason tournament.
Through one game, the Spartans appeared more than ready to begin what they hope is another long tournament run.
No. 9 Alexander overwhelmed No. 24 Portsmouth during a Division III sectional semifinal, 55-24, on Monday at Jackson High School.
The Spartans (15-8) were coming off a loss last Thursday at Nelsonville-York, but jumped ahead of the Trojans 9-0 and never looked back to advance in the Division III brackets.
“We do a lot of talking about this throughout the year,” Grinstead said. “We feel like this is our time. This is what we’ve worked for all year.”
The Spartans have been one of the most successful Southeast District teams in recent seasons when it comes to February basketball. Alexander won its eighth sectional tournament game in a row by beating Portsmouth and has won a tournament game in eight consecutive seasons.
“After 23 games and 60-something practices and five scrimmages, you’ve got to hope your kids still want to be here and our kids definitely do,” Grinstead said. “I felt like they really showed that tonight.”
The Trojans (8-14) haven’t experienced the recent success of the Spartans, as their last sectional title came in 2004.
Portsmouth struggled to mount an offensive attack against the Spartans’ defense, only making seven field goals on the night. They shot 16.7 percent from the floor (7 of 42) and committed 20 turnovers.
Alexander hounded Portsmouth’s standout senior Hannah Hughes all night.
Hughes came in averaging more than 18 points per game, but was held to 13 points on 4 of 27 shooting.
Hughes usually had either Taylor Meadows or Marlee Grinstead glued to her defensively. She only made one of her 15 3-point tries, as her teammates combined for only 15 shot attempts.
“We had a lot of film on them,” Jeff Grinstead said. “A lot of the stuff she did, our kids knew she was going to do. She still was able to spin and get there a few times. She’s a nice player, but she has a lot on her shoulders. She probably feels like she has to do it all.”
The Trojans’ defense was focused on trying to slow down Marlee Grinstead. Hughes spent a lot of the game following Grinstead, with 5-foot-8 senior Ashanti Richardson roaming around defensively, often doubling Grinstead to get the ball out of her hands.
As a result, shots were open for Grinstead’s teammates. Meadows benefitted, as she made three 3-pointers as part of an 11-point effort.
Meadows was usually open, and she responded by making the defense pay. She made 4 of her 11 field goal attempts.
“Taylor did a nice job,” Jeff Grinstead said. “They were leaving her open all night. I told her, keep shooting it. I don’t have any problem with kids shooting the ball if they’re wide open, their feet are set and they have a good shot.”
Erin Scurlock also hit three jumpers for six additional Spartan points.
“That’s what we’ve got to do,” Jeff Grinstead said. “We’ve got to have multiple people stepping up and hitting big shots. I thought that’s what we did tonight.”
Portsmouth’s defensive strategy did initially limit Marlee Grinstead’s scoring, but not for long.
The talented sophomore scored 12 points in the third quarter, most coming in transition before the Trojans could get their defense set.
Portsmouth didn’t sub in the first half until Skilyn Robinson finally picked up a fourth foul. Jeff Grinstead knew the Trojans weren’t able to rely on their bench, so he said picking up the pace in the second half was essential.
“I really feel like pushing the ball that third quarter and really getting after it, getting transition buckets, was huge for us,” he said.
Alexander did eventually wear Portsmouth down. The Spartans lead was just 10-6 after the first quarter, but Portsmouth didn’t make a field goal in the second quarter, and Alexander led 26-9 at halftime.
Alexander held Portsmouth without a field goal for a stretch of 12 minutes and 38 seconds. The Spartans led 40-17 in the third after one of Marlee Grinstead’s transition baskets, and eventually took a 43-19 lead to the fourth after Meadows’ 3-pointer.
Marlee Grinstead finished with 19 points on 8 of 13 shooting, adding eight rebounds. Kara Meeks added nine points, 15 rebounds and two assists. Hope Richardson scored five points, while Jadyn Mace handed out three assists to go with three steals.
Alexander returns to Jackson on Saturday at 1 p.m. in a sectional final against No. 8 Dawson-Bryant. The Hornets were 74-49 winners over No. 25 Piketon on Monday.
Alexander defeated Dawson-Bryant 65-55 back on Jan. 4.
The Spartans will attempt to win their seventh sectional title in a row. They faced some adversity in the regular season with eight losses. Jeff Grinstead hopes the difficult schedule pays off now that the tournament has arrived.
“Even though we haven’t had the best record, we’ve played those teams that we played to be better for this, and you just hope that all pans out,” Jeff Grinstead said. “I feel like to me, their energy level tonight, this was our 23rd game and we didn’t have that in the other 22. That tells me they understand the importance of this and they want to be here.”
Alexander 55, Portsmouth 24
Portsmouth 6 3 10 5 — 24
Alexander 10 16 17 12 — 55
PORTSMOUTH 24 (8-14)
Skilyn Robinson 0 0-0 0, Nia Trinidad 2 1-2 3, Hannah Hughes 4 4-5 13, Ashanti Richardson 0 0-0 0, Jaiden Rickett 1 2-4 4, Kymaree Carter 0 0-0 0, Hailey Peterman 0 0-0 0, Bre Wilson 0 0-0 0, Gabi Johnson 0 0-0 0, Keirston Reid 0 0-0 0, Joy Livingston 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 7 7-13 24; 3-point field goals: 3 (Trinidad 2, Hughes 1)
ALEXANDER 55 (15-8)
Jadyn Mace 1 0-0 2, Taylor Meadows 4 0-0 11, Erin Scurlock 3 0-0 6, Kara Meeks 2 5-9 9, Marlee Grinstead 8 2-2 19, Hope Richardson 1 2-3 5, Emma Brooks 0 0-0 0, Chloe Payne 0 0-0 0, Emma Pennington 1 1-4 3, Olivia Ohms 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 20 10-18 55; 3-point field goals: 5 (Meadows 3, Grinstead, Richardson 1 apiece)
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Portsmouth 7-42 (.167), 3-point field goals 3-25 (.120); Alexander 20-57 (.351), 3-point field goals 5-18 (.278); Free throws — Portsmouth 7-13 (.538), Alexander 10-18 (.556); Rebounds — Portsmouth 28 (Robinson, Rickett 6 apiece), Alexander 52 (Meeks 15); Assists — Portsmouth 2, Alexander 11 (Mace, Scurlock 3 apiece); Blocks — Portsmouth 3 (Rickett 3), Alexander 1 (Grinstead 1); Turnovers — Portsmouth 20, Alexander 18; Steals — Portsmouth 10 (Hughes, Rickett 3 apiece), Alexander 8 (Mace 3); Team fouls — Portsmouth 17, Alexander 14