By Kedrick Storey/Southern Sentinel
RIPLEY – Ripley junior post player Becca Ruckes said she went into Saturday’s 3A North final against Belmont with the mindset she could not be stopped down low.
That was emphatically displayed on the court.
The 6-foot-1 Ruckes had her way in the paint, recording career highs in points with 27 and rebounds with 18, to lead the Lady Tigers (26-4) to a 63-56 victory over the visiting Lady Cardinals.
Ruckes and the Lady Tigers avenged last season’s North championship loss to Belmont with their first title since 2004.
“Coach (Katie) Bates sent me in the game with the mentality that nobody could stop me, and I just tried to make her happy,” said Ruckes, who averages 12.1 points and 8.4 boards to lead Ripley. “It felt good to beat Belmont. I just wanted to get revenge from last year.”
Both teams will advance to the state tournament in Jackson and will play Friday, Feb. 25. Ripley faces Southeast Lauderdale at 9 a.m., while Belmont will play Choctaw Central at 1 p.m.
Ruckes kept good position in the paint all night long, helping Ripley to a 16-11 after one quarter with three baskets in the early going. A three-point play with 5:03 to play until halftime put Ripley ahead 22-19.
“Both times Becca has played Belmont, she had 10 points and six points and both times she was in foul trouble. I just told her to be big and play big,” said Ripley coach Katie Bates, who improved to 2-6 against her division foe. “We challenged her to really step up.
“Credit to Becca for making the shots, but credit to the girls for getting her the ball also. We were able to get it in there at times I didn’t think that we could.”
Ripley’s guards had 16 assists on the night, with the majority of them going inside to Ruckes.
Despite 15 first-half points for Ruckes, Belmont enjoyed a 35-33 lead at intermission thanks to10 second-quarter points from Leslie Robinson. Robinson finished with 18 points.
In the second half, the Lady Tigers went right back to Ruckes, who tied the game at 35 with a bucket to open the second half. The teams traded baskets throughout the third quarter, but Belmont’s Angelia Allen scored seven points to keep them ahead 47-46 to start the final frame. Allen led Belmont with 21 points.
Belmont (26-6) started the fourth quarter with three turnovers that Ripley used to swing momentum in their favor. A Ruckes basket 30 seconds in started a 10-2 game-changing run that put the Lady Tigers ahead for good. Her basket with 4:09 to play gave the Lady Tigers a 58-49 lead, their biggest of the game.
“Ruckes did a great job tonight and we didn’t do a good job of defending her,” said Belmont coach Chris Higgenbottom. “She wanted the ball, got the ball, and did something with it when she got it. She was hard to defend and took us out of our defensive game.”
For Ripley, Jayla Chills chipped in 11 points.
n Game summary, Page 2B