By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – New Site’s players were basking in the glow of Saturday’s 75-63 win against Lake in the state semifinals, when coach Byron Sparks tempered their celebration with these words: “We’ve got four more quarters.”
The Lady Royals, behind a career-high 35 points from Morgan Pearson and 24 from Christy Clark, advanced to Friday’s 1 p.m. championship game of the MHSAA Class 2A state tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum.
New Site (27-4) has been here the last two seasons, but lost once in the semifinals and once in the finals.
“We hope we can take it all this year,” said Kaitlyn Price, the Lady Royals’ lone senior.
New Site, which has played since December without preseason all-state guard Krystal Jackson, will play the winner of the J.Z. George-Scott Central semifinal.
“We’re definitely happy to be back (in the championship game) after losing Krystal early in the season,” Sparks said. “This group could have laid down and quit, but they didn’t.”
Pearson scored 25 of her points in the first half, mainly driving to the basket against Lake’s star and Georgia signee Krista Donald.
The aggressive offensive attack was New Site’s game plan to counter the more athletic Lady Hornets (20-12).
“The plan was to spread it out and go at (Donald),” Sparks said. “The plan was to attack the basket and she happened to be on Morgan. We got two quick fouls on her.”
Donald, who came in averaging 33.3 points per game, was held to six points in the first half. She finished with 18, but most of those came in Lake’s fourth-quarter rally.
“That’s the worst half she’s had,” Lake coach Victor Gilstrap said of his star. “She was special for 30 ballgames.”
Sharnnecqua Holifield led Lake with 25 points.
The Lady Hornets, who trailed by 20 points at the end of the third quarter, came back to cut New Site’s lead to 59-49 with 5 minutes, 15 seconds remaining.
New Site called a timeout and regrouped. Clark, who scored 18 of her points in the second half, connected on a 3-pointer at the 2:16 mark to give the Lady Royals a 68-53 cushion.
Pearson, who was the sixth man on Belmont’s 3A state championship team last season, is enjoying her ride with the Lady Royals.
“I know they’ve been here,” she said. “I’m really enjoying it. I’m excited.”
Sparks has been thrilled with the continued improved play of his 5-foot-11 junior transfer.
“She’s becoming more of a complete player,” he said. “Her ball handling is better. She’s able to take people off the dribble. She’s shooting well outside.
“We’re going to go to her, get her touches. She did a good job today.”