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Spartans prevail with return of coach Bassett

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Saturday marked a long-awaited return to normalcy for Pat Bassett and the South Jefferson girls basketball team.

Bassett, the two-time state champion coach in his 14th season, returned to the sidelines after a weeklong administrative leave in mid-December to lead the Spartans to a 31-24 Frontier League “B” Division victory over General Brown at Jefferson Community College.

Bassett was his usual self — vocal and fiery — and was issued a technical foul midway through the second quarter after a verbal exchange with an official.

“It’s another game of the, I don’t know, 400 or 500 I’ve coached in my career,” Bassett said.

“We’ve had two really good weeks of practice, and the kids are cohesive and playing together,” he added. “We’ve just moved on. It’s unfortunate the way things played out, but we’ve moved on.”

Senior Austin Stevens scored a game-high 17 points for South Jefferson (3-0), which played its first game since Dec. 6.

The Spartans postponed three games during Bassett’s leave and an additional two games were postponed since due to weather.

“It was almost like it was our first game all over again,” said Stevens, who has scored 69 of the team’s 131 points this season.

“And plus with everything that went on, there was a little bit of pressure on us. It wasn’t pretty but we got through it,” she added.

Bassett’s leave — for undisclosed reasons — included a public Board of Education meeting in which current and former players and parents packed Wilson Elementary in Adams Center to show support for Bassett.

Stevens and other players threatened to leave the team if Bassett was not reinstated.

“We have a long way to go but we’ll get there,” South Jefferson senior Jenny McLean said. “It’s good that we’re getting back to being a team and playing as a team.”

Saturday was just the second regular-season game decided by single digits against a league opponent in the last three seasons for the Spartans.

The other occurrence was also against General Brown on Jan. 24 last year when the Spartans were without Stevens, their leading scorer at the time.

“We always play them tough but sooner or later they wear you down,” General Brown coach Mike Hulbert said.

Katie Pitkin scored 12 points to lead the Lions (5-3 overall, 4-3 league). She hit two crucial 3-point field goals late in the fourth quarter to keep General Brown within striking distance, but South Jefferson’s lead never dipped below five in the fourth quarter.

Marisa Clark was the second-leading scorer with five for the Spartans, who matched their lowest scoring output since 2008-09.

“I think that’s the best defense we played all year,” Hulbert said. “If we can continue to play defense like that and find some consistent scoring, I think we’ll be fine.”

The Spartans hit just 10-of-35 shots from the field and 3-of-19 from behind the 3-point line.

“We’re a young team,” Bassett said. “People look at Austin and say ‘What a great team we got.’ But we’re not a great team. We’re probably a mediocre team right now. I think we can get a lot better as the season goes on, but we are young and inexperienced and it’s going to take some time.”

South Jefferson has to play 15 games before the Section 3 seeding meeting on Feb. 12.

The Spartans and Lions are scheduled to meet again on Jan. 28.

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