By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
CLINTON – Itawamba’s plan wasn’t to leave Meridian’s shooter, Gelese Lampton, open on the baseline.
Meridian’s plan wasn’t for Lampton to shoot.
She did anyway, sinking a 3-pointer with a minute remaining Saturday night to lead the Lady Eagles to an eventual 73-69 victory over ICC in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament women’s championship game.
The loss, ICC’s first to a Mississippi team this year, ended the Lady Indians’ season and their dream of advancing to the NJCAA National Tournament in Salina, Kansas.
“We had a mental breakdown,” ICC coach Nanci Gray said. “We rushed to defend dribble penetration and left her open.”
Lampton’s 3-pointer was the only one she hit in the tournament. She was 1 for 9 against ICC and 0 for 18 in two previous games.
“She’s been a heckuva shooter for us this season,” Meridian coach Hilary Allen said. “We wanted to go to inside to Chasity Kearney instead, but ICC stretched us out on top and we had her open on the corner.
“That was a huge shot.”
ICC (26-3), riding a 21-game winning streak, last won a regional in 1975. Gray played on that squad.
“I like the character of my kids, they never gave up,” Gray said. “They played really hard and battled.”
Meridian (22-10), the Region 23 runner-up last season, has now won 16 of its last 17 games.
“It’s tough going out there to get that second-place trophy,” Meridian’s Allen said. “It’s better going out there and getting the championship trophy.”
The Lady Eagles, who led by as many as 12 points in the second half, clinched the victory on free throws down the stretch by ReRe Stinner and Norianna Haynes.
Kearney led Meridian 24 points while Haynes added 17 and Stinner 11.
LaPrecious Naylon scored 32 points to lead ICC. The sophomore from Eutaw, Ala., 20 of her points in the second half to enable the Lady Indians to get back in the game.
Kearney was a scoring machine in the first half, pouring in 20 points to lead the Lady Eagles to a 40-32 halftime advantage.
“We had some defensive breakdowns in the first half and I really can’t tell you why,” Gray said. “It’s been a long week.”
Jameika Hoskins, a sophomore from Aberdeen, gave ICC its largest lead of the first half, 13-8, with a jumper at the 10:39 mark. She finished with 10 points.
The Lady Indians were just 13 of 33 from the field for 39 percent in the first half.
Meridian rallied to take a 22-16 lead on a Kearney layup with 7:01 left in the half. The Lady Eagles pushed that lead to 10 points four times in the final 4 minutes, the last time at 37-27 on a putback by Kearney.