By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
BOONEVILLE – Chris Higginbottom didn’t mince his words when he addressed his Belmont Lady Cardinals following the first quarter of Friday’s Division 1-3A Tournament championship game against Ripley.
Belmont trailed 17-6.
“I told them, ‘We have two options: you can lay down and quit or you can do something about it and get yourself back in the game two points at a time,’” the coach said.
“This team’s not going to quit.”
The Lady Cardinals, who connected on 28 of 32 free throws, including 8 of 8 in the final 1 minute, 10 seconds, rebounded to defeat the Lady Tigers 57-49 at Bonner Arnold Coliseum to win the division title.
“We’ve had problems getting started before,” Belmont senior point guard Leslie Robinson said. “We don’t get too riled up when we get behind.”
The Lady Cardinals held Ripley to a 6-point second quarter to take a 26-23 halftime lead.
Belmont (27-3) and Ripley (24-4) will host a first-round North Mississippi 3A Tournament games Monday. The Lady Cardinals would host the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals if they win their opener.
Robinson led Belmont with 16 points. Angelia Allen added 15 while Kelsie Montgomery and Elisha Jones added 11 each.
“Balanced scoring was a key for us,” Higginbottom said. “I thought a key stat was us making free throws.”
Ripley was led by guard Jayla Chills, who scored a game-high 25 points. However, after she scored six points in the third quarter, she managed only a 3-pointer in the early moment of the fourth quarter.
The Lady Tigers’ 6-foot-1 post player, Becca Ruckes, scored 14 points.
“We switched defensive players on (Chills) in the second half and tried to give her a harder shot off the dribble,” Higginbottom said.
Belmont took a 53-49 lead with 26 seconds remaining on two free throws by Allen. Montgomery then sealed the Cardinals’ win by stealing Ripley’s inbounds pass.
“Kelsie stepped up and read that pass,” Higginbottom said. “She’s a very good defensive player.”
(B) Booneville 63, Holly Springs 40: Booneville (27-3), the defending state champion, captured the boys title with a convincing victory.
Kenny Paul Geno and Darius Leach scored 11 while Jake Hall added 10 for the winners.
In the consolation games, Jordan Wyke scored 31 points to lead Alcorn Central to an 81-70 win over Ripley while Kossuth’s girls downed Alcorn Central 47-44.