There’s no secret to Sarah Jones’ coaching philosophy: play solid defense and take care of the little things in order they don’t become big things.
The Richmond Hill girls basketball coach has her team off to a 7-2 start going into Saturday’s 4 p.m. home game with Woodville-Tompkins (5-3). The Wildcats had a five-game winning streak snapped last Tuesday in a 53-36 loss at Brunswick.
In losing to the Pirates, ranked No. 10 in Class 6A, the Wildcats could not overcome two scoring droughts which saw Brunswick go on 14-0 and 10-0 runs.
That loss was similar to a 49-32 defeat at Bradwell Institute, the No.4 team in Class 5A, in which the offense went into a deep freeze and there were breakdowns on interior defense.
“We’ve had a little inconsistency,” Jones said, “but we’ve done some really, really good things.
“We’ve just got to do a better job of finishing. We’re just trying to put all the little pieces together for a complete game.”
Richmond Hill has been a consistent playoff team under Jones but finds itself in a new classification and region this year which brings new challenges.
The Wildcats are in Region 1-7A along with Lowndes, Valdosta, Colquitt County and Camden County. That means learning new opponents which carries a bit of the unknown with it.
“I know it’s a good region,” Jones said, “But we’re coming from a good region, too.
“We know every night you have to play your very best, that it’s going to be a dogfight. You’ve got to show up. That’s an absolute. It’s not one of those regions where you can take a night off and cruise through.”
The Wildcats have a mix of veterans and newcomers who are making their presence felt as they are looking to bounce back from a 12-13 season, their first losing campaign in six years.
Junior MaKiyah Matthews, seniors Brionna Sutton and Savannah Gravitt along with sophomore Jada Brown are the top returnees. Sophomore transfer May Inyang has been a real shot in the arm and senior Haley Everett is back after missing last year with an injury.
Seniors Sapphira Mathews and Aaliyah Houston add experience and freshman Cullen McCormick looks as if she could be a key contributor as the season progresses.
Matthews is averaging 13.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game along with 1.9 steals. Sutton and Inyang are both at 8.5 points and Brown is scoring 5.8 points per outing.
Inyang, who moved in from Connecticut, has missed the last three games and her absence was felt inside against Brunswick as she is averaging 9.5 rebounds per game to go along with 2.2 steals and 1.7 assists. Brown is rebounding at a 5.3 clip and Sutton 4.. Sutton leads the team in steals with 2.4.
“She’s just 110 percent all the time,” Brown said of Inyang. “In practice, on the court, on the bench. She just has been a really good teammate.
“She has given us a bunch of extra possessions just because of her hard work. She makes people around her better. She’s been a great piece to add to the group we already had and to the group moving up. She’s fit in really well to our program.”
The Wildcats opened their season with a 54-51 win at Woodville, a place where they’ve had limited success. They followed with a 37-30 win over Long County and all the other wins have been by double digits.
One of the more impressive victories has been a 41-16 win over Islands. That is the Sharks’ (4-1) only loss of the season. It was one of those games where everything fell into place as the offensive complemented a normally strong defense.
“One thing we talk about is don’t take your foot off the gas pedal, to continue to be disciplined on both ends,” Jones said. “It can be tough to do sometimes. Against Bradwell we got into a chaotic game and that’s not us. We gave up 26 points in the pain and that’s just too easy.”