By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The H.W. Byers basketball machine started on a slow roll on Thursday and finished in sprinter’s fashion.
The final clocking had the Lady Lions taking a 63-41 victory against Hinds AHS in the MHSAA Class 1A state tournament championship game before an estimated crowd of 2,000 at the Mississippi Coliseum.
The state title was the third straight for H.W. Byers (28-5) and its fifth in six seasons. The first two gold balls came in Class 2A, which is where the program will play the next two years.
“We started off this year on a mission,” H.W. Byers coach Jason Thompson said. “I told them to lay it on the line today, leave with your tank empty.”
Justice Martin scored 15 points to lead a balanced Byers attack. Richenda Crutcher added 12 and Abria Gulledge scored 10.
Senior forward Madison McCreless, who suffered a broken bone in her left foot in the North state tournament semifinals, played nine minutes and contributed six points, a blocked a shot and recorded a steal.
“The average kid couldn’t have played with a broken bone,” Thompson said. “She has the heart of a champion. She did not want to sit this one out.”
Hinds AHS (28-8) was led by Erica Harris with 12 points.
Field goals by Martin and Gulledge helped the Lady Lions overcome a sluggish start in the first quarter. Gulledge’s putback with 4 minutes, 45 seconds remaining was Byers’ first basket.
Byers built an 18-4 lead by the end of the quarter.
“I think we were all just a little nervous at the start,” Byers point guard Precious Rogers said. “After the first quarter, everybody started to play.”
Hinds AHS rallied late in the tird quarter to cut Byers’ lead to 38-31, but the Lady Bulldogs would not get any closer.
“We were playing a good team that knows how to put you away,” Hinds AHS coach Bruce Baker said. “Their pressure got to us. We turned the ball over and missed too many layups.”