COLUMN:Lady Royals' fans make big impact in Jackson

JACKSON – New Site Nation was here in force Monday.
A sea of red shirts – which adorned the bodies of the basketball-crazed citizens of New Site, Hill’s Chapel and Marietta who made the four-hour trip from their Prentiss County communities to see the Lady Royals battle Kemper County in the MHSAA Class 2A girls state tournament – nearly blanketed one lower side of the massive Mississippi Coliseum.
“Boy, I wish they were staying,” one tournament official was overheard saying as the large group filed out of the arena following the Lady Royals’ 69-65 overtime loss in the semifinals.
It’s a fact – no team has come to the tournament this year with a bigger following. The estimated attendance by MHSAA officials was 1,400 for Monday’s game. If that was indeed the count, then 1,000 or more were wearing red.
“We weren’t surprised,” said Lady Royals point guard Carleigh King. “Everybody kept coming up to me last week saying they were going to be here.
“I think they were.”
These loyal gym-packing New Site fans weren’t about to miss the school’s first postseason visit south in 40 years. No Lady Royals team had ever qualified for state and the boys last won a state championship here in 1969.
“We expected our fans to be here for us,” said sophomore guard Krystal Jackson, who scored a game-high 30 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
“That’s the kind of support we have at New Site,” King added.
While the fans eventually left the Big House disappointed in the outcome, they had to have been pleased with the Lady Royals’ effort.
Take King, for instance. The 5-foot-4 junior took an elbow to the nose late in the third quarter and went to the sidelines seeking a towel to stop the blood flow.
New Site coach Byron Sparks kept periodically walking to the end of the bench to check on King.
“I wanted her back in,” he said.
However, King couldn’t stop the bleeding with a towel or an ice bag.
“It was frustrating,” she said. “Finally, I got it stopped.”
She re-entered the game early in the fourth period and mixed it up until the end, even diving for a loose ball with 5.2 seconds remaining and her team down by three points.
“You’ve got to fight and fight with all your heart,” she said.
The Lady Royals did just that … and their loyal legions appreciated it.
Gene Phelps (gene.phelps@djournal.com) covers high school sports for the Daily Journal

Gene Phelps/Daily Journal