By Gene Phelps
JACKSON – Leslie Hopkins, Pine Grove’s 5-foot-4 senior point guard, walked around in a sea of red T-shirts – a large contingent of excited Lady Panthers fans – Friday night thinking gold.
“There’s no stopping us now,” she said, then smiled. “We’re all caught up in the excitement. It’s in our heads.
“We’re getting to play for the gold ball.”
Pine Grove defeated Hinds AHS 51-46 in the MHSAA Class 1A State Tournament semifinals to advance to next week’s championship game.
The Lady Panthers opponent in the 6:30 p.m. Thursday game will be Mound Bayou JFK, a team they lost to in the North finals, or McAdams. Those teams play this morning.
Pine Grove (29-7) won the last of its three state championships in 1986.
Hopkins helped seal the victory by sinking four free throws in the final 2 minutes, 42 seconds. Hinds AHS (22-7) pulled to within 47-44 with under 2 minutes remaining, but got no closer.
Junior post player Aliyah Akins, a 6-footer, led Pine Grove with 16 points and seven rebounds. She hit a 5-foot runner on an inbounds play to give her team a 39-34 lead at the end of the third quarter.
“She has played really well down the stretch,” Pine Grove first-year coach Katie Bates said. “She’s a big presence inside. She had some key rebounds and some key baskets. She even dribbled in and shot the ball. That’s something we didn’t see from her early on.”
Pine Grove, which had a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter, battled to stop the charging Lady Bulldogs down the stretch.
“We’ve played close games all year long,” Bates said.”Every game got us ready for that ending. These girls are tough … mentally, physically.”
Also for Pine Grove, Katelin Miller and Anna Fryar added 13 points apiece. Fryar also had a team-high eight boards.
Hinds AHS coach Bruce Baker said Pine Grove’s strategy was sound.
“It was a good scouting job. They know where they need to be,” he said. “They get there, and when they get there, they dug in … almost like a tick on a hound.”
Octavia Barnes scored 15 to pace Hinds AHS.