By Kedrick Storey
SENATOBIA – It was only natural that the Ripley Lady Tigers and Lafayette Lady Commodores battle for the Division 2-4A crown would go to the wire. In two regular-season matchups, Ripley won by a combined six points, the last by just one.
Friday night, in similar fashion, Ripley got a pair of late buckets and two crucial free throws to win 60-58 and claim a division title in their first year in 4A.
First-year Ripley coach Cliff Orman said he expected the nail-biter.
“It was a battle all the way to the end and we new it would be,” said Orman. “They’ve battled us every time, but I’m just so proud of my kids. When we had opportunities to fall, somebody would step up and make a play.”
Seniors Matavia Cox and Maia Nellum stepped up late for Ripley. Cox scored 12 of her 17 points in the second half. None bigger then her running jumper with 1:11 to play to give Ripley a 56-55 lead. She was named the tournament’s Best Offensive Player.
Ripley would get putback from Jada Rich, but Lafayette closed the lead to 58-57 on a basket by Janae Westbrook with under 30 seconds to play. A Ripley turnover gave it back to Lafayette who threw it away on consecutive possessions. Two free throws by another Ripley senior, Maia Nellum, gave her team their final 3-point cushion. Nellum had 13 points, 12 over the final two quarters.
Lafayette coach Amy Sutton said the miscues over the final half minute were costly.
“We had plays where we could have made something happen and it just didn’t work out for us,” said Sutton. “At this point in the season, you have to be able to step up and make those plays.”
Lafayette, which held brief leads in all four quarters, got a game-high 28 points from freshman Shaniyah Buford. Her layup off a steal gave the Lady Commodores a 55-54 lead with 1:32 remaining.
Zaida Cox added 17 points for Ripley, who will host Corinth Monday to begin the Girls North 4A Tournament. Lafayette will host Shannon.