By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Katie Bates said her Ripley High team was unusually quiet in the hours leading up to Saturday night’s game against Choctaw Central.
Come game time, however, the Lady Tigers made all the noise they wanted.
Ripley defeated Choctaw Central 71-51 to set up an all-Division 1-3A state title game, a matchup of the Journal’s top-ranked Class 3A teams.
The Lady Tigers (23-9) will play Belmont (32-1) for the fifth time this season – the first time at a neutral site – when they meet here on Friday at 1 p.m.
“They kind of worried me all day,” said Ripley’s 27-year-old coach. “They’re usually not a very quiet bunch, and they’ve been super quiet all day.
“But they made a lot of noise whenever they came out right there at the start of the game.”
Her Lady Tigers went on a 14-2 run to start the game. The Lady Warriors came back to tie the game at 21 with 5:36 to go in the half.
From there, Ripley went on a 14-8 run and took a 35-29 advantage into the locker room.
Shunquest Howell – Ripley’s “answer to their run,” said Bates – scored all 15 of her points in the first half, hitting four 3-pointers in the process.
Choctaw Central coach Jennie Vance said she thought Ripley post player Becca Ruckes was the difference in the game.
Ruckes scored 10 of her 16 points in the first half, and had a game-high four rebounds in her 15-plus minutes on the floor.
“I knew that we could keep going inside,” Bates said. “That was our whole big thing. Whether it was the post-up or the drive, we knew we could keep going in there and keep going in there, because we had the definite size advantage.”
In the second half, Anna Johnson and Jayla Chills led the way. Johnson – whose 16 points tied her for the team-high with Ruckes – scored 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Chills scored eight of her 11 points in the third quarter.
LaNaesha Cox, who was tied for the team lead in scoring with Ruckes (11.3) entering Saturday’s game, scored eight.
“It’s just been that way all year long,” Bates said of her team’s balanced scoring.