By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – Forget about the first three quarters of play between the New Albany Lady Bulldogs and the Pontotoc Lady Warriors.
They certainly could afford to.
But the rivalry switch certainly clicked to the “on” position in the fourth quarter on Saturday. And then some.
Needing a last-second shot just to get the contest into overtime, the top-ranked Lady Bulldogs remained unbeaten against Mississippi competition by edging their Division 1-4A rival 46-42 in the North 4A championship game on Pontotoc’s home court.
“I thought both teams early were washed out from last night,” New Albany coach John Stroud said. “In the fourth quarter, it was real intense on both ends.”
The reason both squads could afford to coast through parts of this matchup – both had already qualified for the Class 4A state tournament the previous night. New Albany will play South Jones at 1 p.m. Feb. 28, while Pontotoc will play Lawrence County at 6:30 p.m. the same day.
But the reason neither team coasted through the fourth quarter – pride.
New Albany (27-4) entered the fourth period leading 23-19, bumping that margin to 25-20 on a Nyambi Penson layup. Pontotoc (24-6) responded to the challenge, and with Ebony Brinker converting two extremely tough inside shots, the Lady Warriors forged ahead 29-25 following a free throw by LaNikki McMillian with 3 minutes, 48 second to play.
Back came the Lady Bulldogs, with back-to-back baskets by Penson and Kebrina Lucas giving New Albany a 35-33 lead with 1:20 left. Kayla Russell then drained a 3-pointer, and McMillian hit a layup with 27 seconds left to push Pontotoc up 38-35.
Lucas hit a free throw with 18 seconds left, then Penson dribbled the length of the court on an inbounds play with 6 seconds remaining, banking in a shot from the free throw line at the buzzer to tie the score.
“I did ask her after the game if she had called ‘bank,’” Stroud said. “She’s the fastest player on our team, and we’ve practiced this all the time.”
In the overtime, Paris Sanders hit a layup early for New Albany, and the Lady Bulldogs never trailed the rest of the way.
“This was not a pressure game,” said Pontotoc coach Bill Russell, whose Lady Warriors have lost to New Albany four times this season. “We had them on the ropes, and they came back hit some big shots.
Lucas led New Albany with 14 points, and Brinker paced Pontotoc with 14.
After Pontotoc led 13-10 at the end of the first quarter, the second quarter featured a solid five minutes of no action. New Albany was in a zone that Pontotoc did not want to attack, and both teams were perfectly content to let the clock run at that point in the contest. New Albany led 15-13 at the half.
n Game summary, Page 2B