By Brandon Speck
JACKSON – Booneville’s girls have been trying to change the perception of their program. Out of nowhere, this will do it.
The young Lady Devils won the first state title in school history Friday afternoon with a 56-51 victory against Northeast Mississippi rival Belmont.
“You just kind of got a feeling about the dynamic of that team that we had a shot,” first-year Booneville girls coach Michael Smith said.
Booneville (28-6) controlled the scoreboard from Maria Lauderdale’s opening bucket until Belmont junior Katelyn Nunley scored off an offensive rebound for a 43-42 lead with 6:15 left in the game, a 20-6 run for the Lady Cardinals that overcame a 13-point hole.
“First half, we played Booneville basketball,” Belmont coach Chris Higginbottom said. “They were pressing us, keeping us out of the halfcourt offense. Give them credit, because it was their defense.”
Tied at 45, Kabrina Hill hit a pair of free throws that gave Booneville a lead it wouldn’t let go. Following a turnover, Booneville’s lone senior, Dashiyah Agnew, scored five straight of her game-high 20 points.
It was the fourth meeting of the teams this season, including a split in the division and Belmont’s victory in the North championship games. Friday, there were 47 fouls and 63 free throws.
“They came prepared and they were the better team tonight,” Nunley said.
Belmont (22-11) made one last run, cutting the lead to 54-51 on a 3-pointer from lone senior Natasha Jones – Belmont hit 1-of-11 from deep – and a free throw from Breanna Lynch. Hill padded the lead with a free throw with 16.9 seconds left.
Freshman Adallice Young had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Booneville. Sophomore Maleeka Patterson scored nine points and had 10 rebounds.
Elisiah Jones had 15 for Belmont. Nunley scored 14. Belmont stayed in the game in large part to sophomore guard Chloe Watson, who scored six of her 10 points in the run that put the Lady Cardinals ahead. She also had a pair of her eight rebounds in the stretch, but fouled out with 4:13 left.
Smith and staff had led the Booneville boys to three straight state championship games, winning a title in 2011. They didn’t take over the girls program until early October in a late coaching change.
“He pushed us and we had to push ourselves,” Young said. “We had to change a lot.”