By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The scouting report on Belmont’s always the same: stop Anna Brooke Page.
If you can.
Ripley failed to contain the Lady Cardinals’ 5-foot-11 scoring machine for a fifth consecutive time this season and lost to Belmont, 60-55, Friday in overtime in the MHSAA Class 3A state championship game.
Page, a forward, scored 26 points and contributed two huge 3-point plays in the final 4 minutes of regulation play to insure the Lady Cardinals got an opportunity to bring a ninth gold ball home to Tishomingo County.
“Anna Brooke’s a great leader,” Belmont coach Chris Higginbottom said. “We call on her a lot and she stepped up to the plate. When she gets the ball she’s going to make something happen.”
Ripley head coach Katie Bates didn’t need convincing.
“Page’s tough; we couldn’t stop her,” she said.
Bates’ Lady Tigers (23-10) looked primed to end their four-game losing streak to Belmont (33-1) in the game that mattered most.
Ripley led from the opening tip to the 3:41 mark of the fourth quarter when Belmont’s Page scored on a putback and was fouled. Her 3-point play gave the Lady Cardinals a 46-44 lead.
Prior to that score, Belmont’s Zoe Hammock connected on a 3-pointer to cut Ripley’s lead to 44-43. A steal underneath the Lady Cardinals’ goal by Mallory Torrence got the play going.
“I realized time was running out and we needed to make some plays,” said Torrence, a senior.
The Lady Tigers scratched to get the lead back, 49-48, with 44 seconds remaining on a layup by center Becca Ruckes.
Page scored 13 seconds later on a layup, then hit a free throw for a 3-point play to give Belmont a 51-49 edge.
Ruckes tied the score at 51-all on a putback with 2 seconds left.
“We should have beaten them,” said Ripley’s 6-foot-1 sophomore, who scored 15 points. “We scared them. We just made some mistakes late. This is really hard.”
Prior to Ruckes’ final basket, the Lady Cardinals missed four consecutive free throws in a span of 2 seconds.
“Ripley’s a good team; we knew we were going to have to bring our best game to win,” Page said, then smiled. “This was a big game for us and we were a little nervous, but we stepped it up when we had to.”
In the overtime period, Hammock and Morgan Pearson sank two late free throws each to seal the victory.
Ripley’s best shot came with 29 seconds remaining when LaNaesha Cox, who scored 15 points, left a layup short on a drive through a sea of Cardinals defenders.
“I’m proud of my girls,” Ripley’s Bates said. “Nobody picked us to be here in the championship game. This is the game we wanted and the opponent we wanted.
“If we were going to be the best, we wanted to beat the best.”