SP Lady Tiger basketball
By Brad Greer
Stalisha Draper could not have asked for a better birthday present than she received Saturday night.
Draper hit the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity with 10 seconds remaining in the game to lift South Panola to a 47-44 win over district rival Tupelo in the consolation game of the North 5A girls tournament.
The victory sends the Lady Tigers to the state tournament for the first time in three decades where they will play South 5A runner-up Hancock at 1 p.m Friday in Jackson at the Mississippi Coliseum.
“This feels so good, it makes up for not going last year,” said Draper. “Tupelo did a good job on Sabrina (Townsend) and was double-teaming Chasity (Kearney) down low so the rest of us had to make some plays and pick up the slack. We caused some turnovers and hit some key free throws down the stretch,” said Draper, who had five points on the night.
Tupelo, playing on their home court, had a chance to tie the game following Draper’s missed free throw, but Amber Jackson’s three-pointer was off the mark as time expired. The win was the Tigers third win of four meetings with the Golden Wave this season.
South Panola, (23-7), took a 37-36 lead into the fourth quarter on Draper’s put back of an Essie Thomas missed jumper as the third quarter expired. Tupelo tied the score at 41 with 4:23 remaining on a Mandy Collins basket from the right corner.
The Tigers regained the lead at 43-41 on a jumper in the paint by Kearney. Then on the next possession, Vetorra Cole stepped in front of the in bounds pass and scored on a lay up at the 2:59 mark. Tupelo had three chances to tie the game but came up empty handed as Collins and Jackson missed jumpers and guard Maggie McFerrin was called for traveling with 51 seconds remaining.
Collins scored the Wave’s first eight points as Tupelo jumped out to a 10-0 lead when South Panola missed its first 10 shots of the game before Cole’s lay up at the 2:37 mark got the Tigers on the board. The Wave took a 14-6 lead after the first period, but South Panola settled into their game and got within four points at 18-14 on a pair of Townsend free throws.
South Panola tied the game at 19 on a Thomas three-pointer then took the lead on the next possession when Townsend drilled a three from the right side with 53 seconds left before intermission.
“They ran a box-and-one on Sabrina most of the night. We knew they were going to throw some kind of junk defense on her to slow her down so the other kids knew somebody was going to have to step up,” said Tiger head coach Ralph Stallings.
Cole and Townsend each had 12 points in the winning effort while Kearney followed with 11 and Thomas chipped in with seven. Collins led Tupelo in scoring with 18 points while McFerrin, who hit 29 points in the last meeting between the two teams, was held to eight points.
“The kids believed in themselves even after we were down 10 to start the game. We were down to Columbus and Tupelo in the district tournament so this was not new to them. They knew if we got a couple of steals and converted some easy baskets they would get back in the game. Vetorra was outstanding tonight. She came up with some key steals and a few points and they seemed to set a fire under them,” said Stallings.