By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
BOONEVILLE – First game of the season? Preparing for the playoffs?
It really did not matter Friday, because this played out like one of the good Northeast Mississippi rivalries that it is – the Booneville Blue Devils versus the Baldwyn Bearcats.
As both teams concluded their regular season, the Blue Devils concluded the contest ahead on the scoreboard, surviving for a 78-74 victory in front of capacity crowd at Booneville High School.
“It doesn’t matter if someone hasn’t won a game, this is a great rivalry,” Booneville coach Michael Smith said. “This was a huge win for us.”
Playing their fourth game in five nights, the Devils played huge the whole contest, not allowing the Bearcats to run away early.
In just the first quarter, there were five ties as a basket by Baldwyn’s Reggie Patterson with 3 seconds to play in the period pushed Baldwyn (22-4) ahead 21-19.
And so it went, back and forth into the third period. There, three baskets by Easton Cartwright helped to push Booneville (18-9) into a 57-50 lead by the end of the quarter.
Booneville could not escape, and Baldwyn fought back to within 64-60 on a pair of free throws by Devin Lindsey. But a 3-pointer by Omar Leach with 4 minutes, 3 seconds to play temporarily halted the Baldwyn comeback.
In fact, Leach scored eight points in that final 4:03, helping keep Baldwyn from denting the Booneville lead under four points.
“It’s been a tough week, but the kids have really stepped up,” Smith said. “It seems that every time we play Baldwyn, they get off to a good start, and that didn’t happen tonight.
“And in the fourth quarter when they cut it to four, Omar hitting that 3-pointer was a key moment.”
Leach paced four Devils in double figures with 17 points, while Patterson shot in 20 for Baldwyn.
“We probably didn’t do enough to discourage the rim to get smaller for them,” said Baldwyn coach Jason McKay, who was very disappointed the way his Bearcats played with the lead in the first half. “We didn’t feel the urgency when we were up five, and that’s something we need to get better at.”
(G) Booneville 62, Baldwyn 37
It was a nice team effort by the Lady Devils (14-11), with no player in double figures. Raleigh Downs and Nikki Whitten each scored eight for Booneville, while Ayana Ragin hit 14 for Baldwyn, which trailed 36-20 at the half.