Lady Tiger basketball
By Brad Greer
For nearly 16 minutes, South Panola had defending 5A champion Murrah just where they wanted them. The Lady Tigers went toe-to-toe with the powerful Mustangs, who came into Thursday’s semi-final round game sporting a No. 5 national ranking. But trailing 25-19 with 23 seconds left before halftime, the roof caved in on the Tigers.
After battling for a loose ball, guard Essie Thomas took a nasty spill onto the hardwood Mississippi Coliseum floor where the junior laid for 30 minutes until paramedics could transport her to a local hospital.
The turn of events seemed to let the air out of South Panola as Murrah took advantage in the second half by outscoring the Tigers 15-4 in the third quarter in route to a 54-37 victory while putting a stop to South Panola’s post-season run.
“The kids played hard, but I felt like we shot ourselves in the foot. A majority of their points in the first half came off our turnovers. I thought we would be more relaxed than what we were but when those nerves kicked in and we made some turnovers in the second half, it was too much to overcome,” Tiger head coach Ralph Stallings said.
“We were still in good shape at halftime, but I think my kids’ minds where still on Essie and they were worried about her and we could not stay focused on what we had to do on the floor,” said Stallings.
Murrah forced four turnovers in the first two minutes of the third quarter that broke open the close game. A pair of Tanecka Carey coast-to-coast baskets followed by Janice Okeke steal and lay up gave the ‘ Stangs a 31-21 lead. Vetorra Cole and Chasity Kearney scored the only two baskets for the Tigers in the period. Cole was the leading scorer for the Tigers with 17 points, 11 of those coming in the fourth quarter.
Murrah extended the lead to 46-29 on a pair of free throws by Okeke with 4:10 remaining in the game. The Mustangs held South Panola leading scorer Sabrina Townsend scoreless in the second half and to only seven points in the contest.
South Panola, (24-8), took their only lead of the game at 9-8 early in the first period on Cole’s jumper. LSU signee and McDonald’s All-American selection LaSondra Barrett led Murrah with 19 points while teammate Brandi Simmons followed with 12 points.
Kearney and Townsend followed Cole in scoring with seven points each while Montieth Brewer and Thomas recorded four and two points each. The Tigers shot 37 percent form the floor on the day while Murrah connected on 19- of- 40 shots for 47 percent.
Even in defeat, the loss could not put a damper on the outstanding season South Panola had as they finished the year winning the last 12 of 14 games. The Tigers will return all but two players next season, but replacing Townsend will be a key factor.
“Overcoming the loss of Sabrina will be huge. She was our leader on and off the court and she was our go-to girl when we needed that key basket,” said Stallings. “It will be up to our juniors and sophomores to pick it up. We’ve got a good crop coming back. Vetorra will be back and a pair of sophomores in Montieth and Chasity who I think will be a very good players before they leave here. The future looks good if we can just stay focused and get our heads right.”
Murrah, (30-1) went on to defeat Greenville – Weston 57-50 Saturday night to win the school’s eighth state title.
The rest of the state basketball state championships games are: 5A boys Provine 82, Greenville 76 (2OT); 4A boys New Hope 56, Picayune 51 (OT); 4A girls Indianola Gentry 52, Yazoo County 44; 3A boys Aberdeen 79, Columbia 50; 3A girls Southeast Lauderdale 78, Franklin County 52; 2A boys Newton 68, Scott Central 60; 2A girls Byers 63, Philadelphia 59; 1A boys East Webster 65, Durant 58; and 1A girls Coldwater 51, East Oktibbeha 44.