By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – In her own words, Belmont’s Kelsie Montgomery was “0-for-a lot” shooting in the first 29 minutes of Thursday’s 3A State Tournament championship game against Ripley.
The final 3 minutes told a different story … one that ended with an MVP plaque and a gold ball in 5-foot-11 senior’s hands.
Montgomery, her team trailing by 10 points with 4 minutes, 40 seconds remaining, sank two 3-pointers and had a game-clinching steal to lift the Lady Cardinals to a thrilling 39-38 win at the Mississippi Coliseum.
“I was really down on myself, but coach kept telling me that my shots were going to fall,” said Montgomery, who was 0-of-10 from the field before sinking a 3-pointer at the 3:13 mark to kickstart Belmont’s rally. “I was dribbling and looking at the clock. I knew we had to keep shooting.
“We weren’t going to let them win.”
Montgomery’s 3-pointer with 1:46 left cut Ripley’s lead to 38-35. She later missed a field goal attempt, but teammate Leslie Robinson stepped up and ended her shooting woes down the stretch as well, scoring 7 of her 9 points in the final 2:11.
The Lady Cardinals’ senior point guard cut Ripley’s lead to 38-37 with a steal and layup at the 30-second mark.
Robinson scored the eventual game-winner on a layup with 15 ticks remaining.
“I struggled in both games down here,” said Robinson, who was a combined 5 of 26 from the field in the semifinals and finals. “I waited to the end of the game tonight to shoot my way out of it.”
The Lady Cardinals turned the ball over under Ripley’s goal on an inbounds play with 3.4 seconds left.
On Ripley’s inbounds attempt, an alert Montgomery got the steal to seal the win.
Belmont (32-4) avenged its 3-point loss to Ripley (28-5) in the North state title game, to capture its second state championship in three seasons and the program’s 10th overall.
Ripley took an 8-0 lead in the first quarter before a stunned Belmont rallied to cut the Tigers’ lead to 17-13 at halftime.
“Give Ripley credit,” Belmont coach Chris Higginbottom said. “They were the best defensive team we’ve played. It was also like the goal had a lid on it.”
The Lady Cardinals struggled all night, connecting on just 14 of 59 field goal attempts. Angelia Allen led Belmont with a 14-point game.
Jayla Chills and Becca Ruckes scored 13 points apiece to pace Ripley.
“It came down to execution and we didn’t execute,” Ripley coach Katie Bates said. “They executed late in the game and made their run.”