There is a calming presence late in games for the Andover Central girls basketball team when Ryann Stearns is on the court.
Stearns has become that kind of player for the Jaguars, capable of taking over games and leading her team to victory.
Andover Central found enough of a boost when Stearns was straddled with foul trouble through the first three quarters of Tuesday’s game against Valley Center and then Stearns brought home the win, scoring 10 fourth-quarter points and a game-high 23 to lead Andover Central to a 51-48 victory.
“What I’ve been most proud of her this season is that she is starting to make everybody else around her better,” Andover Central coach Stana Jefferson said. “She’s not only upped her game, but she’s taken everybody else with her.”
After her 23 points on Tuesday, Stearns is averaging 21 in Andover Central’s 6-1 start. The win over Valley Center (5-2) was also important for the Jaguars’ quest to win their third straight AV-CTL II championship.
“Right now they’re on top of the mountain and until somebody knocks them off in our league, it’s tough when they’re up there,” Valley Center coach Trent Preheim said. “Goddard’s fighting for it. I think we’re at least in the battle and I’m happy about that, but Andover Central is so disciplined and they just expect to win. We’ve got to keep fighting to get there.”
Valley Center certainly proved it belong in a back-and-forth game that featured 14 ties and 17 lead changes, including four lead changes in the final six minutes of the game.
Valley Center took a 48-47 lead on a pair of free throws from Zayda Perez (team-high 17 points) with 46 seconds left, but then Stearns answered with two free throws of her own with 37 seconds left to give Andover Central the lead, 49-48, back.
Bethany Reeves (15 points) had a mid-range jumper for the potential lead, but Andover Central’s Beth Schulte grabbed the rebound and Stearns had already begun to leak out for a fast break. The pass ahead led Stearns to the basket and three-point cushion with 18 seconds left.
A well-contested three-pointer by Valley Center just before the buzzer fell well short.
“This was a really important win for us because it’s league and that’s always our goal to win league,” Schulte said. “Ever since we lost to Goddard, every game is important now.”
For Stearns, who sat out most of the second and third quarter due to foul trouble, it was a strange game.
She scored all 10 of her team’s first-quarter points before sitting and then closed the game with another 10-point quarter in the fourth. When her team needed her the most, Stearns responded.
“I thought it was a really good team win for us,” Stearns said, deflecting the credit. “We had a lot of people off the bench step up for us when we were in foul trouble and I thought we stayed composed and didn’t let them get in our heads.”
Jefferson agreed that it was a building block for Andover Central, which received important performances from Jewell Bolden (15 points) and Ashtyn Brown (9) to pick up the win.