By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Winning state championships in girls basketball is something of a tradition at Belmont High School.
The Lady Cardinals defeated rival Ripley 60-55 Friday in overtime at the Mississippi Coliseum to bring a ninth gold ball home to south Tishomingo County.
“There’s some pressure, but not a lot,” said Belmont senior Anna Brooke Page, who scored 26 points in her team’s win. “The whole community just wants to see us succeed. We don’t want to let them down.”
The state championship was a first for Belmont’s coach, Chris Higginbottom, who is in his fifth season. This was his third trip with Lady Cardinals to the Big House and his first state title game.
“These girls have been dreaming about this since they were little girls,” he said. “They’ve seen the tradition.
“I told them, ‘They dreamed it. They believed it. Today, they achieved it.’ ”
Wait ’til next year
– Despite its loss to Raymond in the 4A state title game Friday, New Albany has a lot to look forward to in 2011 – all five starters are back from a 32-1 team.
One of those returning is sophomore-to-be forward Jazmine Spears, who scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the championship game.
“Jazmine pretty much dominated tonight and she didn’t get a lot of touches,” Lady Bulldogs coach John Stroud said. “Everybody’s back and that’s good. They’ve got to work on their game and get better.”
One thing Stroud said fans won’t see next season is an undefeated team.
“We’re going to have a tougher schedule,” he said.
– The first time Belmont and Ripley played this season, back before Christmas, the Lady Cardinals soared to an 18-point win, 87-69.
The two Division 1-3A foes played three more times before Friday’s showdown in the 3A state championship game. Belmont won all three, but by much closer margins – 61-54, 60-52 and 57-54, in the North half finals.
“Two of those times we’ve been right there,” Ripley coach Katie Bates said. “We just haven’t been able to finish.”