Lady Royals shake off nerves

By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

HAMILTON – New Site played on high school basketball’s largest stage in March – the 2A state finals – but that didn’t help matters in Tuesday’s season opener.

The Lady Royals had the first-game jitters, but you would never know by looking at the game’s final score: New Site 72, Hamilton 21.

“I think we were all nervous because it was our first game,” said 6-foot-1 junior guard Grace Elliott, who scored just two of her game-high 14 points in the first half. “Coach (Byron) Sparks said we needed to come out stronger the second half.”

Powered by Elliott’s 12 third-quarter points, the Lady Royals turned a 33-12 halftime lead into a whopping 55-17 advantage.

Seniors Shelby Stricklen and Cristin Pharr added 11 points each for New Site before retiring to the bench for the final quarter.

“Grace struggled early and she got down on herself,” Sparks said. “I told her, ‘You need to always want the ball.’ She came out the second half and did a better job being aggressive offensively.”

New Site finished 31-5 last season and lost to hot-shooting Victoria Vivians and Scott Central in the state championship game at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.

The Lady Royals will get their first real test of the young season Saturday when they battle last year’s 1A state champion, H.W. Byers, in the Smithville Classic. Byers moved up to 2A this season and is expected contend with the Lady Royals in the North.

Sparks was excited to give his backups some quality minutes in the season opener. Callie Martin scored eight points and Saltillo transfer Allie Moreland had four points coming off the bench.

“I know what my first group can do; I’m trying to build some depth,” Sparks said. “We were trying to get everybody some minutes tonight. We’ve got to get some things cleaned up by Saturday.”

gene.phelps@journalinc.com