By Kedrick Storey/Southern Sentinel
BELMONT – The odds were stacked against the Ripley Lady Tigers going into their Class 3A North championship game with the Belmont Lady Cardinals. In the three seasons, the Lady Cardinals had won 10 straight at home over the Lady Tigers.
So much for streaks.
After suffering two earlier losses to Belmont – most recently in the Division 1-3A title game – the Lady Tigers led at intermission for the first time and made it hold up for a nail-biting 42-39 win to repeat as North Half champions. Ripley will represent the North as the No. 1 seed at the Big House in Jackson for the second year in a row.
Ripley coach Katie Bates said beating an archrival is always nice, but winning the North title was the goal to begin the week.
“It’s good because it’s a growing rivalry, but our biggest thing was winning the North half championship,” said Bates. “Honestly, I don’t think anybody – not even me or the girls – thought we would be here at this point when the season began. To go back-to-back with this team is really special.”
Ripley trailed 7-6 after one quarter, but pushed ahead in the second quarter to lead 22-18 on a running layup by Zaida Cox.
However, it was Belmont which pushed back in front to start the second half. The Lady Cardinals forced seven Ripley turnovers and used a 9-2 run to lead 29-24 with 2:41 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Ripley (27-4) answered with five points from leading scorer Jayla Chills, who was held scoreless in the first half. The junior drained a contested three-pointer and connected on two free throws to knot the game at 29. Her buzzer-beating jumper to end the third quarter gave Ripley a 32-29 cushion. Chills scored seven points in the quarter and finished with 11.
“We didn’t want to let them beat us three times in a row. Twice was enough,” said Chills.
In the final two minutes, Ripley’s Becca Ruckes, who led all scorers with 17 points, scored six points and had one of three blocks to preserve the win. The senior added 10 rebounds.
Angelia Allen led Belmont (30-4) with 15 points, while Leslie Robinson added 14.