Thursday, February 28, 2008
Lady Lions return to state
By CLAUDE VIINSON
Jason Thompson, head coach of the H.W. Byers Lady Lions, said last week he’s trying to build that winning tradition.
He’s well on the way.
Saturday night, the Byers girls claimed their first North State championship and qualified for their second straight Class 2A State Tournament.
They beat Belmont, a school with a rich history of success in girls basketball, for the north crown. It came just eight days after they defeated the same Lady Cardinals for the Region 1-2A title. Belmont had downed Byers in the regular season. All three games were tight.
“It’s always very competitive,” Thompson said. “It’s not going to be a game where either team has comfort. We’re creating a great rivalry.”
The Lady Lions (33-4) receive a first round bye in the State Tournament. They will play the Kemper County-Water Valley winner Saturday at 1 p.m. in “The Big House” (Mississippi Coliseum, Jackson).
Byers vs. S.V. Marshall
The Lady Tigers of S.V. Marshall rolled into the Lions’ Den Thursday night to battle the H.W. Byers Lady Lions in the quarter-finals of the North Half 2A tournament.
At first glance they looked like a good defensive team. The first few minutes, they were holding the Byers’ money players in check. But after the Lady Lions made a few blistering trips down the court, the visitors were becoming rattled. They were able to hit a quick six before H.W. Byers shut them down. They left the floor locked into that six points at the end of the first quarter.
In the second the combination of Rachel Jones, Simone Ryan and Amanda Jones went to work and turned 21 points while holding the Lady Tigers to 10. It was a quarter of momentum for Byers which posted the intermission score of 40-16. Ryan and Jones had 13 and 12 points, respectively, in the first half.
The Lady Tigers were completely hapless in the third. It was a fast break runaway with Jones (Rachel) and Jones (Amanda), providing the juice. They extended the lead to 65-28 when the third ended.
With 4:13 and a huge point spread, coach Jason Thompson benched the franchise players, sending in all new uniforms. They put the game further out of the Lady Tigers’ grasp, making a 76-39 victory.
S.V. Marshall had a season record of 15-5.
Rachel Jones and Ryan finished with 20 and 19, respectively. Amanda Jones posted 15 and Symone Gorman hit 11.
The Lady Tigers had no players in double figures.
The win set up a semi-final meeting between Byers and Water Valley.
Byers vs. Water Valley
The Lady Blue Devils of Water Valley brought a very impressive record into the Lions’ Den Friday evening. Their record, 30-3, was close to that of their host’s 31-4 mark.
The Water Valley faithful created quite a cacophonous din when the Lady Devils registered a 9-0 lead over Byers in the beginning of the first quarter.
The Lady Lions did not come unglued, and they got enough shots to fall through to make it a moon beam thin lead after the end of the first quarter at 10-9.
The Lady Devils came to play with visions of moving on. They were bent on protecting their record. The Lady Lions were showing signs of losing some of their composure. The shots just were not falling and they were defaulting on too many close in opportunities. The Lady Devils took the second quarter and led 24-21.
The Lady Lions were using a 2-3 defense that was not collapsing on the Water Valley shooters. Also, the Lady Devils were cutting off the Lady Lions’ fast breaks. Byers was working hard to keep the score close throughout the third, although the shots were not connecting and the fast break was diminished. Water Valley was getting good looks and making the most of them. They still led at three’s end, 37-34.
The Lady Lions began a pressure defense in the fourth. It was just the ticket. The Lady Devils wilted under the tightly applied pressure. Byers regained its composure, retook the lead and stretched it to eight at 49-41 with 1:17 left to play.
Water Valley’s only recourse was fouling. They had three to give before the hosts reached bonus. The Water Valley coach drew the ire of the officials, and a tech. After that it was all over. Byers added five more for a 54-41 win.
Rachel Jones led Byers with 15, followed by Ciara Seldon with 10. Simone Ryan and Symone Gorman had nine and eight, respectively.
Miranda Phillips fueled the Valley attack with 17 ,aided by Keta Thompson with 13.
The Byers machine would move on to face Belmont for all the north half marbles.
Byers vs. Belmont
The final two teams squaring off in the last game of the North Half Tournament in the 2A class, the Lady Lions of H.W. Byers and the Lady Cardinals of Belmont, have high regards for each other.
The arch-rivals had met twice already this season with each taking a win. Each team has talented, high-performance players. The Lady Lions had defeated the Lady Cardinals for the Region 1-2A crown.
They began the battle from the tipoff. And almost immediately the Belmont defense started to target Simone Ryan. The “bottling effect” was telling, but the Lady Lions eked out a 13-11 lead at the end of the first stanza.
The second quarter saw both teams giving fouls freely. Byers was seemingly baring the brunt of it. Ryan and Symone Gorman had to retire to the bench with three each.
But Byers kept up the pressure on the ball. And Rachel Jones was making them pay for sending her to the charity stripe. For the major part of the second quarter, Byers steadily increased the gap, reaching an 11-point separation at one point. But Kailie Montgomery and Anna Brooke Page kept bringing the Lady Cardinals back. Byers was still ahead at intermission 37-29.
The infractions continued to flow in the third. It was becoming clear that this one would probably be won at the free throw line. Ryan picked up her fourth and had to retire again. With Ryan gone, the Lady Cardinals made a run for it with Montgomery leading the way. Belmont took the lead, lost it and regained it before the third ended(53-52).
It was becoming ultra difficult for either team to survive in the fourth quarter. Each team was making multiple trips to the line. Byers was one point down and had two opportunities to salt it away but all four shots rimmed out.
Then Ryan went to the line after a Cardinal was hit a with a tech and canned three of four. Belmont would score again but they had to foul Jones twice and she hit all of them to give Byers the 73-69 victory. Jones had a total of 20 from the line and 37 overall.
Marian Parker scored nine for Byers, Amanda Jones and Ciara Seldon eight each and Ryan seven.
Montgomery led the opposition with 25 and Page had 20.
When the last second ticked off the overcrowded arena erupted with Byers supporters. The Lady Lions were on their way down the big road to “The Big House” once again – this time as the number one seed of the north. Last year the Lady Lions defeated Belmont for the third seed. Belmont will be returning for the second time in three years.
Last season Byers was defeated by Coahoma County in the semis.
The entire Byers family is to be congratulated for the outstanding program and job they did in hosting the tournament. The ladies in the hospitality room deserve a special vote of thanks.
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