Thursday, March 13, 2008
Lady Lions state champs
If there is such a thing as a trifecta in basketball, then H.W. Byers Lady Lions own it after last Thursday night at the “Big House” in Jackson. They also probably needed a small U-Haul to bring back the other awards and honors.
The Lady Lions, who had already claimed regional and north half championships, hit the floor smoking in the state title game with a trey by Ciara Seldon. But they had worthy opponents in the Lady Tornadoes of Philadelphia. The contest was tied five different times during the first quarter. The Lady Tornadoes made some crucial baskets and had the lead at 22-19.
In the second, Philadelphia continued to move the ball well with good control. They widened the gap to nine points before the Lady Lions put the brakes on. They moved to within one point just before intermission at 37-36.
This one was going to be a treat and a second half war for the almost 2,000 delighted fans watching from the stands.
Danielle Cole was coming alive and giving the Lady Tornadoes a renewed confidence. She had been taken out of the game during the first half by heavy Byers pressure.
The Lady Lions countered Cole’s performance with points from Seldon, Simone Ryan and Amanda Jones. They even had a three-point margin for a couple of minutes. The remainder of the third was a real battle of clawing Lady Lions versus whirling Lady Tornadoes. Each team had some miscues that hampered the advancement of the score.
If there was a crucial point in this state championship contest, it would be the third quarter. Rachel Jones and Amanda Jones, paired with the resourceful rebounding of Ryan, had the Lady Lions out front at the end of the frame, 56-55.
Each team had fouls to give and Philadelphia began using theirs. In the low scoring fourth quarter (Byers had seven points and Philadelphia had four), the Lady Lions had two consecutive chances to ice it but missed both. But in the end Rachel Jones’ driving baskets proved fruitful and the Lady Lions went on to the 63-59 Class 2A state championship victory.
Rachel Jones, Simone Ryan and Ciara Seldon were selected to the All State Tournament team. Rachel Jones was identified as the Cellular South most valuable player for the game. Marian Parker was recognized as the Cellular South scholar athlete.
Rachel Jones led Byers (35-4) with 18 points. Amanda Jones had 12; Ryan had 11; Seldon had 10; Parker had seven; and Symone Gorman had five.
Tiara Logan led the Lady Tornadoes (26-6) with 20, followed by Cole with 15, Tamarah Hunter with 10 and Chentrice Horne with 10.
The Lady Lions will face the 1A champs, Coldwater Lady Cougars, in the Grand Slam Basketball Championship Thursday evening at 6 p.m. at the BanCorp South Arena in Tupelo.
Outcomes in championship games often depend on defense and rebounding.
Coach Jason Thompson said his Lady Lions shined in those areas Thursday night, particularly in the second half.
“Rebounding likely got the trophy,” he said. “We out-rebounded them 46-26 and they were beating us on the boards at halftime.”
Simone Ryan had a game-high 11 rebounds. Symone Gorman grabbed 10 and Rachel Jones eight.
Philadelphia had two “great players” and going in Coach Thompson knew trying to slow down Tiara Logan and Danielle Cole was a big key.
Logan came out red hot from beyond the three line. Cole was carrying the bulk of the load after the half.
“We planned to play a zone as much as possible the first half, but they came out on fire,” Thompson said. “So I said, ‘scrap this.’”
He switched to a box-and-one defense, guarding Logan man to man, with the other four Lady Lions in a zone. Later he also went to a triangle and two, guarding both Logan and Cole man to man with the other three Lady Lions in a zone.
“I swapped Rachel (Jones) and Amanda (Jones) around on both,” Thompson said. “They played some great defense – something they’ve been doing all year. Our entire team buckled down and played tremendous defense when we needed it.”
And then down the stretch, nursing a slim lead, Thompson went to his normal recipe for success when the game is on the line. He put the ball in the hands of Rachel Jones.
Her biggest points came at the 1:54 mark. She drove to the basket, scored and was fouled. Her free throw gave Byers a 61-57 lead.
“That was a big three-point play,” Coach Thompson said. “It gave us a little breathing room.
“We want to have it in her hands 90 percent of the time in that situation. No one defender can guard her, and if they start double-teaming, somebody else is open. All five I have on the floor can handle the ball and make free throws.
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