By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
BOONEVILLE – The girls championship contest in Division 1-3A Friday at Northeast Mississippi Community College had all the intensity of a knockout game.
It was not a knockout situation, but the No. 1 seeded Belmont Lady Cardinals had to play like it was in order to pull out a 60-52 victory over the Ripley Lady Tigers.
“Free throws were the difference in the end,” said Belmont coach Chris Higginbottom, who was quick to point out that his Lady Cardinals made 15 of 17 from the line in the crucial fourth quarter.
It took a veteran and determined effort from the Lady Cardinals (27-1), who trailed the Lady Tigers (19-8) going into the fourth quarter.
There in the final period, Belmont took its first lead since the early second quarter at 42-40 on two free shots by Morgan Pearson. The Lady Cardinals never trailed again, though Ripley was still within 49-48 with 2 minutes, 25 seconds to play on a Mersades Carter 3-pointer.
But in the last 1:12, Belmont made nine straight free shots to ice the contest.
“We turned our defense up a notch in the second half and stopped their dribble penetration,” Higginbottom said. “And we attacked on offense, getting the ball inside.”
The young Lady Tigers were using their quickness effectively in the first half, leading as much as 28-21 in the second period on a Jayla Chills layup. Belmont cut into the margin in the third quarter, with Anna Brooke Paige scoring seven points in the period, helping her team pull within 36-33 entering the fourth quarter.
“I’m disappointed, but not in the girls,” said Ripley coach Katie Bates, whose Lady Tigers have now played Belmont three times this season. “We wanted to prove we could play with them, and now we’re working to play them again.”
Paige paced the Belmont offense with 22 points, 14 in the second half. Shunquest Howell led Ripley with 13.
Both Belmont and Ripley will host first round contests next week in the Class 3A North Mississippi Tournament, probably on Tuesday because of the current weather delays in other parts of the state.
(B) Corinth 72, Ripley 69
In the boys’ championship matchup, Jacob Walker scored a game-high 22 points and Deonta Herman added 21 for the Warriors. Acie Vance and Tyyon Rutherford each scored 21 points for Ripley.
(B) Booneville 65, Kossuth 62
A tight consolation contest was decided on a last-second shot by Booneville’s Easton Cartwright.
Cartwright paced the Devils with 20, and Tony Pams led Kossuth with 22. Kossuth led 33-31 at the half.
(G) Kossuth 43, Booneville 40
Another tight consolation contest went in favor of the Lady Aggies.
Kiki Gwyn tallied 18 for Kossuth, and Raleigh Downs 20 for Booneville. Kossuth led 16-9 at the half.