By Kedrick Storey/Southern Sentinel
BELMONT – Ripley and Belmont, the state’s top-ranked girls teams in Class 3A, have been on a collision course all season. So naturally, with the No. 1 seed in next week’s Division 1-3A tournament on the line, Tuesday’s game was a prize fight that went to the final bell.
In a defensive struggle, second-ranked Belmont’s Jada Luster broke a 37-all tie with two free throws with 1:20 remaining, and the host Lady Cardinals (24-3) made just enough stops at the end to hold off the top-ranked Lady Tigers 39-37.
“Everybody thought this game would go down to the wire and if we replayed it 100 times, I’d give it to her 100 times,” said Ripley coach Katie Bates, after she watched a Jayla Chills game-tying layup rim out with 14.7 seconds to play. amp”That’s who we want to take the shot.
Ripley (22-3) got two more shots to tie or take the lead in the final seconds, but Chills missed a final heave at the buzzer.
Angelia Allen led Belmont, winners of 18 straight, with 17 points.
“Another great battle between Belmont and Ripley is what you saw tonight,” said Belmont coach Chris Higgenbottom. “It was pretty much even as far as stats, but to win championships you got to play good defense and you got to rebound.”
The Lady Cardinals led 26-19 at the break after Luster scored the final five points of the half. The senior converted an old-fashion 3-point play then added a rebound and stickback. Luster finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds, including eight offensive.
“She turned the momentum our way and gave us a boost,” said Higgenbottom.
Ripley buckles down
Ripley got back in the game with a stingy defense, holding Belmont to 13 second-half points. Belmont scored their first points of the third quarter at the 3:43 mark, when Lesilie Robison found Kelsie Montgomery on a backdoor cut and a 28-23 lead.
Ripley ended the quarter on an 8-3 run, on two buckets by Chills and one each by Matavia Cox and Jada Rich to trail 32-31 heading to the fourth. Chills finished with 17 points.
(B) Belmont 70, Ripley 68: The Cardinals (11-15) got 21 points from Byron Southward and 18 points from Wesley Brandon to win their first Division 1-3A game of the year.
Ripley (18-6) was led by Malik Pearson’s 18 points. Canaan Ratliff added 15.