By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Alexis Hardaway saved her best for last.
The senior guard, who has battled through an injury-plagued high school career, scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds Friday to lead H.W. Byers to a 74-69 victory over high-scoring Jerontay Clemons and Coldwater in the MHSAA State Tournament’s 1A championship game.
The state title was the fourth in five seasons for the Lady Lions (29-4).
“I told her to play with your heart; don’t play with your skills,” Byers coach Jason Thompson said. “I knew she could score. Today, she rebounded and had some key assists.”
While Hardaway was having a career afternoon, Coldwater’s Clemons was having just another day at the office. She poured in 40 points, even going 0 for 9 on 3-pointers, to lead the Lady Cougars (27-9).
The Southern Miss signee missed a 3-point attempt from the top of the key with 10 seconds remaining that would have tied the score at 72.
“She had a nice look at a 3, but it just didn’t happen,” Coldwater coach Wert Spiva said.
Hardaway, who has signed with Austin Peay State University, scored 14 of her points in the first half to give the Lady Lions a narrow 35-32 halftime edge.
“We knew we had to attack, attack, attack,” Hardaway said. “I knew I had to play my game. I knew I had to step it up.
“I’m just so glad everything went the right way.”
Byers needed Hardaway’s presence in the absence of 6-foot-2 post player Kyra Gulledge, who suffered a knee injury Tuesday in practice. Gulledge, a Furman signee, played just 6 minutes against Coldwater. She left the game in the second half when her left knee buckled.
“My knee was going out of place and back in,” said Gulledge, standing with the aid of crutches during the postgame ceremony. “It was hard having to watch. It was my last game. I wanted to help my team win.”
Justice Martin, a 5-11 junior, gave a strong inside performance to aid Hardaway, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Abria Gulledge, a freshman guard, added 15 points for the Lions.
“We’ve got a blend of great players mixed with great kids,” Thompson said. “They’ve worked hard and created this winning tradition. This is a testament to these kids and how well they play on a stage like this.
“They are a dynasty.”