BY JOHN WILBERT
JACKSON – The New Site Lady Royals basketball team had victory within its grasp – figuratively speaking – but could not quite hold on for a chance to play in the MHSAA Class 2A state championship.
All the Lady Royals had to do in Monday afternoon’s state tournament semifinal – their first ever appearance – was to hold on to the basketball in the final 30 seconds of regulation.
Unfortunately for the Lady Royals, Kemper County would emerge with the ball and force overtime, where the Lady Wildcats (28-8) prevailed with a 69-65 victory in front of an estimated 1,400 fans at the Mississippi Coliseum.
“We just turned the ball over too much,” said a bloodied New Site junior Carleigh King, whose team committed 20 turnovers.
With a one-point lead, 59-58, and less than 30 seconds to play in the game, Cara Clark deflected the ball away from Kemper County and King came up with the loose ball for New Site.
Seemingly, that would have ensured the Lady Royals the win and the chance to compete against division foe H.W. Byers for the state championship on Friday.
But that secure feeling quickly disappeared as Kemper’s Chadisty Hickman came up with a steal and was fouled, sending her to the free-throw line with 20.8 seconds left. Hickman managed to hit the first free throw to tie the game at 59.
“We couldn’t take care of the ball and we turned it back over before I could get a timeout,” said New Site head coach Byron Sparks, whose team ended the season at 30-7.
After a New Site timeout, Bree Harris (14 points) had her layup blocked by Rotasha Windom as the final seconds of regulation ticked away.
Windom, who led her team with 24 points, came up with another huge block with her team up two, 65-63, with less than a minute to play in overtime.
The Lady Wildcats outscored New Site 10-6 in overtime.
Losing the handle
“We usually take good care of the basketball,” Sparks said. “That’s usually one of our strengths.
“I don’t know if it was jitters. … I don’t know if sitting out a week we were a little flat. Normally, we take care of the ball. We just didn’t do that today.”
After winning the North state tournament on Feb. 21, the Lady Royals seemed a bit too timid in the early going. New Site fell behind 9-0 just two minutes into the game.
Darrah Pharr scored New Site’s first field goal at 5:23 in the first and that triggered a 14-8 run to close out the first quarter. Kemper still had the lead though at 17-14.
“It’s the first time that these girls have ever been in here and played in here,” said Sparks, whose team received a moral boost from the New Site faithful who blanketed the Mississippi Coliseum with red.
Sparks’ club owned the second quarter – 13-9 – to take a 27-26 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“We had to change a lot of things due to foul trouble, because (point guard) Chadisty (Hickman) picked up two fouls in the first quarter and that really messed up our offense,” said Kemper head coach Johnny Rush.
Towards the end of the first quarter was also when Krystal Jackson got going. The sophomore New Site guard scored nine points in the first half before scoring 21 the rest of the way. Her 30 points led all scorers.
“I know for a fact we’ll be back here,” said Jackson, one of 13 Lady Royal players that will be returning next year. “We’ll be ready. This gives us the motivation to come back and we know we’ll be back.
“We’ll work hard to get even further than we did this year.”
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