Lady Cardinals win battle of Jackson-bound teams

basketball_icon_greenBy David Wheeler

Special to the Journal

BOONEVILLE – Both the Belmont Lady Cardinals and Booneville Lady Devils had already qualified to play in the State Tournament.

So what was the big deal Saturday in the championship game of the Class 3A North Mississippi Tournament?

Winning.

Belmont had just enough of an edge this night, getting past Division 1-3A rival Booneville 50-46.

“First of all Booneville is a great team, and it is a good thing for us to beat a great team,” Belmont head coach Chris Higginbottom said. “For us tonight, it was execution.

“Who did the right things at the right time. Booneville has great guards, and we had to focus on rebounding and protecting the goal.”

Both Booneville and Belmont advance to the state tournament, and both play Saturday in Jackson. Belmont advances as the No. 1 seed from the North and plays at 6:30 p.m.; Booneville, the No. 2 seed, plays at 1 p.m.

But there was a big question mark as to who would gain that No. 1 berth until the clock ticked to zero.

Katelyn Nunley and Elisiah Jones combined for all of Belmont’s points in the first quarter as the Lady Cardinals moved to an 11-7 lead.

Booneville responded with a 6-0 run to begin the second period, and Maria Lauderdale’s 3-pointer gave the Lady Devils a 13-11 lead. Belmont then threw a 9-0 run at the Lady Devils, with the Lady Cardinals eventually grabbing a 22-17 halftime advantage.

There were four lead changes in the third period, with Nunley scoring the last two field goals to help Belmont to a 33-31 lead.

Fourth-quarter drama

Booneville knotted the score at 33-33 out of the fourth quarter gate on a Dashiyah Agnew layup, but Nunley responded with an inside basket, and Belmont never trailed again. Nunley eventually scored nine points in the quarter to help the Lady Cardinals hold off Booneville.

“Belmont got some breaks they made themselves,” Booneville head coach Michael Smith said. “You can’t be happy just to go to Jackson.

“Next year is right now.”

Nunley scored 21 and Jones added 17 for Belmont in the win, while Adallice Young shot in 26 for Booneville, including 11 in the fourth quarter.

Belmont won state titles as recently as 2010 and 12, while this is the first trip for the Booneville girls since 2007.

The two teams had split two previous matchups, with Belmont winning in the regular season, and Booneville in the division tournament.