Lisa Blalock’s second year as Central’s girls basketball coach has been quite different from the first. Blalock’s squad will enter its game against Southside at 6 p.m. Friday in Muncie Fieldhouse with an 8-8 record, a far cry from the 1-15 mark it took into the rivalry game last season.
Blalock credits her team’s large junior class as a big reason for the turnaround, saying those six members of the squad have each improved to help their team do the same. The Bearcats have just one senior on their roster, so those juniors make up the bulk of the veteran experience. And the addition of some younger talent hasn’t hurt, either.
The junior class includes Jessica Rowe, who is second on the team in both scoring and rebounding, averaging nearly a double-double with 10.7 points per game and nine rebounds a contest.
“Each one of them, I can go down the entire list and just talk about how much they’ve improved, individually and as a team,” Blalock said. “Just their understanding of basketball, the game, understanding it from that point of view.”
The Bearcats have also gained a new leading scorer this season, freshman Jayla Scaife. Scaife is the younger sister of Ball State men’s basketball player Jauwan Scaife, and she’s had little trouble adjusting to the high school level.
Scaife averages 15.3 points per game and 9.4 rebounds. She had one of her biggest games of the season on Tuesday, a 27-point and 19-rebound effort against Greenfield-Central in a two-point loss.
“She just creates such a presence in the post,” Blalock said. “And when we have her inside creating that presence, it opens things up for others. And obviously when we can get her the ball inside, good things happen.”
The younger Scaife sometimes goes to work out with her older brother. She said his familiarity with her allows him to communicate constructive criticism in a way that’s most productive for her. He uses an encouraging style that she said works well for her.
And she said his successes during her childhood have shaped her goals as a basketball player.
“It’s a big deal, just seeing him going to Central, graduating, having all the college letters that he did,” she said.
As Jayla Scaife prepares for her first taste of the Central-Southside rivalry, her talents haven’t gone unnoticed across town.
“She’s a special player and she provides matchup problems for whoever they play,” Southside coach Ryan New said. “And she will for us as well. We don’t have anybody that can just go out and defend her one-on-one. So, we’ve got to have several people defending her. And she drastically changes the look of that Central team.”
New’s Rebels will enter the game 6-10. They won last season’s game against the Bearcats, believed to be the first time Southside has ever won a game in the rivalry series.
While the Rebels are no longer chasing their first-ever win against their biggest rival, Southside guard Kaitlyn White said that doesn’t change the motivation for the game.
“We’re trying to keep it going, we want to beat Central continuously,” White said. “It was cool to beat them last year, I feel it would be even better to beat them two years in a row. And I think we can do it.”
New said the win against Central last year served as a late-season spark for his team. He’s hoping this year’s game can serve the same purpose. Southside won its last game, against Burris on Jan. 8, snapping a four-game losing streak.
“Regardless of the records, I think that where we’re at and where we hoped to have been at this point, this game just has a lot of significance for us,” New said.