By Gene Phelps
BOONEVILLE – Pine Grove’s magical season continues.
The Lady Panthers, directed by first-year coach Katie Bates, captured the Division 1-1A tournament championship Friday with a hard-fought 46-36 victory against Biggersville at Booneville High gym.
“This group of seniors had not won a division tournament,” said Bates, who returned to her high school alma mater following a successful tenure at Ripley, one that included a state championship. “Nobody expected them to be this competitive … to be 25-6.
“These girls know it has nothing to do with them and nothing to do with me.”
She referred to her team’s belief in the Bible verse Exodus 9:16: “But I have raised you up for this very purpose …”
Pine Grove trailed by as many as six points early in the second half, but rallied in the third quarter with a 14-5 run to take a 33-30 lead into the final eight minutes.
Point guard Leslie Hopkins connected on two field goals in the Lady Panthers’ run, then sank four free throws in the game’s final 40 seconds to help bring the title trophy back to Tippah County.
“This is something I haven’t felt before,” Hopkins said postgame. “I can’t describe the feeling. We accomplished this as a team.”
Pine Grove (25-6), which won the regular-season division crown with a 6-0 record, was led in scoring by Aliyah Akins, who collected 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
“Aliyah Akins … gave us a spark inside,” Bates said. “Anna Fryar, who is usually our big presence inside, was in foul trouble.
“That hurt us.”
Katelin Miller added 12 points for Pine Grove. Jada Tubbs scored 17 points and added 11 rebounds for Biggersville, which is coached by Chris Parham, who coached at Pine Grove last season.
“We ran out of gas,” Parham said.
Pine Grove jumped out to a 14-5 lead, but had a cold shooting second quarter – one field goal – and trailed 20-19 at halftime.
(B) Biggersville 82, Falkner 49: The Lions won their sixth straight division tournament championship.
Jaylen Gaines scored 20 points and Daniel Simmons added 16 for Biggersville.