By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The doctor told Crystal Clay not to play. So did the team’s trainer.
Southeast Lauderdale’s 6-foot-4 post player, who suffered a knee injury in the South Mississippi tournament, didn’t listen to them.
She played in Saturday’s MHSAA Class 3A state tournament semifinals game and sent defending state champion Ripley a “Get Well Soon” card instead, powering Southeast Lauderdale to a 57-50 victory at the Mississippi Coliseum.
Clay scored 26 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked eight shots against the Lady Tigers.
“I came too far to give up now,” Clay said. “My knee was hurting, but I knew I had to keep going.”
Southeast Lauderdale (32-2) advanced the the state championship game to play Choctaw Central or Charleston.
“We knew she would get her points,” Ripley coach Katie Bates said of Clay. “She’s a really big presence inside. We didn’t have anybody size-wise to match up with her.”
Ripley (29-5) will miss the state championship game for the first time in four seasons. They won the gold ball in 2011.
“We want to get to the championship game every year,” Bates said.
Clay connected on 11-of-15 shots, all in the paint on layups and putbacks. Southeast shot only one 3-pointer, by Anitra Ruffin, and hit it.
Clay was one of two starters injured for the Lauderdale County team. Point guard Denisha Knight was also hurt last week and her play was a game-time decision.
“I was amazed the way these people who were hurt came out and played tonight,” Southeast coach Joe Miller said.
Ripley trailed from the start and rallied from 15 points down to cut Southeast’s lead to 25-17 at the half.
Southeast pushed its lead to 20 points, 39-19, with 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Ripley, using its aggressive man defense, clawed back to within eight points twice in the fourth quarter. However, Clay and her teammates answered each attempt.
“It’s tough when you dig a hole that deep,” Bates said.
Zaida Cox led Ripley with 13 points. Jayla Chills and Matavia Cox added 11 each.