Thursday, March 12, 2009
State champions again
By CLAUDE VINSON
On a court which the H.W. Byers Lady Lions are becoming most familiar with, they showed up once again to do battle for the coveted state crown in Class 2A.
Their opponent at “The Big House” in Jackson was Kemper County. Between the pair, they had eliminated the number one state tournament seeds from the North and South and this would be a battle of number twos.
The game, which was played before a crowd of 2,500, was prefaced with delightful fanfare. Two senior cheerleaders from Byers (Dominique Mull and Olivia Cunningham) reprised their roles as color bearers prior to the game and Lady Lion Kenyata Gulledge was the recipient of the Cellular South Scholar Athlete Award.
It was clear during team introductions that the Lady Wildcats had a decisive height advantage; however, it was not showing up in the rebounding column when the game started. Byers was packing defensive players in and blocking out the Lady Wildcats’ offense.
The solid rebounding by Byers’ post personnel and the fastbreaks of Amanda Jones had the Lady Lions ahead 20-1 in the first six minutes of the first quarter. Symone Gorman and Ciara Seldon were showing the Lady Wildcats nothing but claws at the defensive end. Gorman accounted for 14 of the rebounds with 13 being grabbed at the defensive end. The score was 24-1 at quarter’s end.
Kemper County began using its height differential in the second. The Lady Wildcats also connected on a pair of treys which helped to slow down the ballooning Byers score. But they were also sending Byers to the charity stripe, often. The Lady Lions were perfect at the free throw line, shooting 100 percent for the first half.
The Lady Wildcats did cut the Byers lead to 14 just before the half, but that would prove to be their last respite. The score at intermission was 42-26.
Kemper County tried a full press in the beginning of the third. It gained six points for the Lady Wildcats and lasted almost a minute. Midway through the third quarter, the Lady Lions put on a class 2A clinic. With close-in play from Kourtney Coleman and Alexis Hardaway, and Rachel Jones’ playmaking and dishing out assists, they registered 26 unanswered points to make a 68-40 tally at the completion of three quarters.
The Lady Lions went on to record their second consecutive 2A championship with a score of 78-53.
During the entire contest the Lady Lions played with dedication. There was no discernible sense of urgency. Their coach, Jason Thompson, appeared relaxed and confident on the sidelines as he was barking out schemes.
Byers principal Gary Hannah, befor being called away for a live interview for Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB). Hannah said he had not seen the Lady Lions play so well.
“We really have a great team,” he said.
Don Randolph, superintendent of Marshall County Schools, and his wife Dene were at courtside. When asked how he felt about the repeat performance of the Lady Lions, Randolph said, “It is sweet to win one, but it is even sweeter to win two in a row. We have to appreciate the outstanding jobs from our principals, coaches and teachers – the great jobs which they do every day in academics, as well as athletics. We have tremendous community support. And it is why we go to work each and every day.”
Amanda Jones was tapped as most valuable player. She also struck for 26 points and grabbed six rebounds. Hardaway, Gorman and Coleman scored 15 each.
Kemper County (28-9) had two shooters in double figures – Alondra Jefferson with 17 and Kundriay Spencer with 11.
The Lady Lions (34-4) will be back in the Big House Thursday for the Mississippi High School Activities Association/EnviroTurf Grand Slam. Their first game will be at 6 p.m. against the McAdams Lady Bulldogs (35-1), the Class A champions.
With a win, they will face 3A champ Raymond Friday at 1 p.m. in the semi-finals. The Grand Slam championship game will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. in “The Big House between the winner of that semi-final contest and the winner of Class 4A Yazoo City versus Class 5A Murrah.
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