Homestead girls work to correct their few hoops flaws Spartans have their sights set on long tournament run.

Most of us don’t see the Homestead High School girls basketball team’s flaws.

We’re too busy watching the Spartans pile up one-sided wins, too busy marveling at guard Karissa McLaughlin’s ability to score anywhere, anytime, and too busy counting the blessings of a team filled with shooters, rebounders, defenders and, most of all, competitors.

The flaws are for coach Rod Parker to find.

He finds them, and he sees how this team can be better, how it must be better if it is to finally win a state title after strong runs the last two seasons.

Homestead (22-2) beat Jay County 81-59 in its Class 4A sectional opener Tuesday at Homestead, advancing to the semifinals against South Side on Friday.

It’s way too early to celebrate, of course. This team was built for a long run, one that culminates in a trip to Indianapolis if all goes right. They enjoyed winning. That never gets old. But it was straight to correcting those almost imperceptible flaws for Parker.

It’s almost impossible for the rest of us to see how his team can improve much, when it’s already so strong. Parker insists it can.

“The nice thing is it’s a different kind of improvement, maybe more subtle or little,” he said. “But they are important and can lead to a possession or two that can make a difference in a game in a 4A tournament where we expect to play several games down to the final couple minutes and potentially to the final couple plays. We have to look at the details and make sure we’re as sharp as we can possibly be.”

Parker looked at Tuesday’s win and he was happy with the early energy: Homestead jumped out to a 9-0 lead, pushed it to 17-5 and went into the half ahead by 19 points.

“If we pick up our pace at the beginning and get a great start, it pulls all the momentum toward us throughout the whole game,” McLaughlin said.

“We want to start off on a good note, get up a little bit and set the tone,” said senior Madisen Parker, who scored 17 of her 22 points in the first half.

The third quarter is where Rod Parker saw the flaws.

He emphasizes that early blitz, yes, but also wants to duplicate it to open the third quarter. That’s when an opponent’s will can be broken, when 19-point leads can be pushed to 25 or 30. Jay County (16-8) refused to let that happen – or maybe Homestead took its foot off the defensive pedal a bit.

By the end of the third quarter, Homestead had increased it lead to 21 points – thanks in large part to McLaughlin, who scored 13 of her 31 in the third quarter – but it hadn’t shut the door. Jay County eventually cut the lead to 15 points in the fourth before the Spartans pulled away, again primarily riding the offensive willpower of McLaughlin.

“We’re built around shooters and we have to shoot the basketball well,” Rod Parker said. “But the thing I’m really addressing with the team is the defensive end of the court. We can’t give the opponent easy shots and easy opportunities to score. While they shot it well, a few of the shots were a little bit easier than they needed to be.

“We have to do a better job contesting shots.”

So there’s a flaw, and an area in need of improvement.

The good thing for the Spartans is that Parker’s criticism, and message on how to fix the problem, hits open ears.

Homestead hadn’t even reached the locker room for the postgame before the players knew what needs to be improved.

“Every game we learn something and we can get better,” Madisen Parker said. “Tonight, we learned a lot defensively. We have to communicate more. Going into South Side, they’re going to be aggressive and put a lot of pressure on us, and we have to focus defensively.”

Homestead reached the state finals two years ago and the semistate last season, successful but disappointing finishes. That’s how high they set the bar. While they dutifully talk about taking one game at a time, the real goal is a state championship.

That’s why Rod Parker built one of the toughest schedules in the state, and one that resulted in only two losses, both in overtime, to powerful programs Carmel and Huber Heights (Ohio). Parker’s players have done an outstanding job of staying in the moment most nights, even when they overpowered opponents. There’s a different feel now that it’s down to the one-and-done postseason.

“In pregame, we were way more hyped than we usually are because it’s the postseason,” McLaughlin said. “We know what our goal is, and what we’re striving for, and we’re having a great time out there.”

Homestead’s flaws are few. The Spartans are still working to erase them. They’re still hungry to improve, and that might be their most important asset in pursuing the ultimate prize. <br>

<i>This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com </i>