By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Kelsie Montgomery couldn’t make a perimeter shot in pregame warmups. Unfortunately for Choctaw Central, Belmont’s senior forward rarely missed when the game clock was on.
Montgomery sank 5 of 6 3-pointers, including three in the fourth quarter to lead the Lady Cardinals to a 63-50 victory Saturday morning in the semifinals of the MHSAA Class 3A State Tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum.
“I made them in the game,” Montgomery said, smiling and acknowledging her pregame shooting woes. “I wanted to be in the championship game.”
Thanks to Montgomery, who finished with 17 points, and guard Angelia Allen, who scored a game-high 27, the Lady Cardinals (31-4) will play a familiar foe, Ripley, at 7 p.m. Thursday for the state championship.
Belmont won the state title in 2010 while Ripley (28-4), its Division 1-3A rival, is the defending state champion.
Choctaw Central (32-3), which eliminated Belmont last season in the state semifinals, took a 46-43 lead with 5 minutes, 6 seconds remaining in the game on a layup by Lashayla McMillan.
Less than a minute later, Montgomery nailed a 3-pointer from the left baseline to tie the score. A minute later, she gave the Lady Cardinals a 49-46 lead with another 3-pointer after she rebounded a missed layup by Allen.
Later in the quarter, her third trey ball gave Belmont a 54-48 lead.
“Kelsie knocked down some big shots,” Belmont coach Chris Higginbottom said. “She made some big 3-pointers when the game was still nip-and-tuck.”
Choctaw Central coach Willis Tullos didn’t see the Montgomery 3-point express coming.
“In the game tape we had seen, No. 21 did hardly anything,” he said. “She shot the eyes out today and she wasn’t wide-open.”
Down the stretch, the Lady Cardinals padded their lead on 7 of 8 free throws by Allen, who was 17 of 19 from the foul line. She also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Belmont struggled with the Lady Warriors’ full-court pressure in the first half and fell behind, 30-25, at halftime.
“Choctaw Central is relentless pressuring you,” Higginbottom said. “We had a plan for it. When we executed it, we did a great job.”
Belmont opened the third quarter with an Allen-powered 10-0 run after falling behind 32-25. She scored nine of the 10 points.
Leslie Robinson and Elisiah Jones, who scored 10 points, sank back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Lady Cardinals a 41-37 edge headed to the fourth quarter.
Kristen Dixon scored 15 points and McMillan added 14 for the Lady Warriors.