Photo by DeMill Dixon
Shaquira Caradine is double-teamed versus Lawrence County.

Photos by DeMill Dixon
Leekadra Smith (24) escapes some pressure near midcourt versus the Lady Cougars.

Darianna Wilson (22) is guarded closely by a Lady Cougar.

Lady Indians state runners-up

Byhalia’s largest lead was five and Lawrence County’s was six.

It was that type of state championship game – a nail-biter with fans on the edge of their seats or standing.

In the end, the Lady Indians, who had to regroup after losing Dandy Dozen player Shay Johnson to injury in late January, dropped a 38-34 decision to the Lady Cougars.

A Class 4A state crown would have been the icing on the cake, but runner-up was a huge accomplishment, according to head coach James Sales.

“For us to be here is just a blessing in itself,” he said.

“For us to lose a player as talented as Shay and get this far, I’m so proud of these ladies. They fought so hard to get here.”

Both teams fought hard for 32 minutes Thursday night at Jackson in Mississippi Coliseum.

A big chunk of the offensive output for both teams came in the first quarter.

They swapped leads several times to start the contest. Byhalia went up 6-5 on Leekadra Smith’s three from the corner. In the closing seconds of the opening period, Darianna Wilson hit a shot inside the lane. Byhalia’s lead was 18-16.

The Lady Indians got their largest advantage at the 5:16 mark of the second. Shaquira Caradine traveled the length of the floor for a bucket to make it 21-16 and force a Lawrence County timeout.

But less than three minutes later, the game was tied at 21. It was 23-23 at halftime.

Byhalia scored just four points in the third, two by Wilson and two by Tialexus Stevenson, and Lawrence County seven.

“We had opportunities in the third quarter,” Sales said. “We got stagnant on offense. We couldn’t make shots.”

Trailing 30-27 entering the fourth, Lakiowa Milan nailed a three to knot the game with 7:11 left.

It was still tied at 30 with 4:33 remaining. That’s when the Lady Cougars reeled off five unanswered points.

The Lady Indians trailed by six (37-31) with 1:44 left in the title contest.

Smith drilled a clutch three with 49 seconds remaining to get Byhalia within three.

The Lady Indians then forced a turnover via its full-court pressure but missed a close-in shot that would have cut the deficit to one.

Lawrence County hit one of two free-throw tries with six seconds left to seal the deal and escape with the four-point victory.

“Overall, we played good defense,” Sales said. “We had a mental breakdown or two.

“We had our chances on offense in the fourth quarter, too, but we made some turnovers and missed some shots.”

The Lady Indians were two of eight (25 percent) from the free-throw line in the loss.

“Maybe fatigue played a part,” Sales said.

“I know that was a very good basketball team we played, and my girls can hold their heads high.

“We’re sad, but we’re happy. It’s bittersweet.”

Scoring eight points each for Byhalia in the state championship game were Caradine, Wilson and Smith. Caradine also dished out six assists. Stevenson was the top rebounder with 12.

Byhalia finished with a 25-6 record.

They lost four games in a row after Johnson went down with an injury late in the regular season. They were seeded third entering the Region 1-4A Tournament but brought home first place and then made the playoff run all the way to the state title game.

Holly Springs South Reporter

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Holly Springs, MS 38635
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