By Kedrick Storey/Southern Sentinel
RIPLEY – The last time the Belmont Lady Cardinals squared off against the Kossuth Lady Aggies, the only thing on the line was a trip to the Division 1-3A title game. Kossuth took that matchup by eight points.
Friday night, when the two preseason state title contenders met in the semifinals of the North Class 3A tournament, the stakes were much higher – and the outcome much different.
Kelsie Montgomery led three Belmont players in double figures with 17 points, and the Lady Cardinals advanced to their second consecutive North championship game with a gritty 43-37 win over Kossuth.
With the win, the defending 3A state champion Lady Cardinals punched their ticket to Jackson. They face Ripley for the North championship tonight at 7.
“The last time we played them (Kossuth) I thought it came down to heart and execution and we didn’t do those things” said Belmont coach Chis Higginbottom. “We reevaluated ourselves and I told them tonight’s game may not be about Xs and Os. It may be all heart and execution and we had a lot of both offensively and defensively tonight.”
The game was tied at 25 heading into the fourth quarter, when the Lady Cardinals began to impose their will on the Lady Aggies. Four consecutive free throws between Montgomery and Angelia Allen, who finished with 13 points, gave Belmont a 29-25 lead with 6:28 remaining.
After a Katie Garvin jumper pulled Kossuth to within 29-27, an Allen layup followed by a bucket by Montgomery gave Belmont their biggest lead to that point, 35-29 with 3:42 to play. Garvin scored 12 points for Kossuth.
Garvin and Odyssey McGaha, who led Kossuth with 13 points, scored on back-to-back possessions to make it 37-33 with 2:28 to play. However, Belmont drained six consecutive free throws in the final 90 seconds to seal the win. Four of those free throws came from Leslie Robinson, whose 10 points all came in the second half.
– Ripley 46, East Side 37: Becca Ruckes scored 13 points and Shunquest Howell chipped in 12 as the Lady Tigers secured their spot in the state tournament for the second year in a row with win over the Lady Trojans.
Ripley controlled the pace and led by more than seven points for much of the contest.