By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
Bill Russell had no lofty expectations for his Pontotoc Lady Warriors basketball team headed into the season.
He had no reason to think 20-win season. He didn’t consider a North half tournament berth as a possibility.
Come on, his team was 8-18 a year ago.
“My goal was us to go .500,” Russell said. “I thought that was an achievable goal.
“I don’t think anybody thought we’d be 20-3.”
However, that’s the record Pontotoc takes into tonight’s regular-season finale against Houlka. Next week, the Lady Warriors are the second-seeded team in the Division 1-4A tournament, which means they already have a berth locked up for the North Mississippi tournament the following week.
Pontotoc’s 8-2 division record is the result of two losses to New Albany, The Clarion Ledger’s No. 1-ranked team in the state against all classifications. The Lady Warriors lost 60-34 to the Bulldogs earlier this season, but rebounded to give the top-ranked team a scare before falling 62-56.
Pontotoc’s only other loss this season was to 6A Tupelo, 65-53.
“New Albany’s got it all,” Russell said. “I think there was an intimidation factor the first game. I don’t know if we had very many players who thought we could win.”
In the rematch, “we made some shots early and stayed in the game. It was a close game throughout.”
As the season went along, and the wins mounted, Russell’s goal changed. He believes his team has the talent to go deep in the postseason.
“We lost a lot of kids from the program after last year,” he said. “The kids who stuck it out worked hard. I’m glad to see them reap the benefits.”
Two juniors lead the Warriors – 6-foot guard/forward Rhandi Ball (13.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and 5-8 forward Ebony Brinker (18.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg).
“They’re a lot alike,” Russell said. “They’re both unselfish. I have to stay on them not to pass up shots.
“This is a close team, no jealousy. These two are as good as they are because of their teammates.”
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or firstname.lastname@example.org