By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Foul trouble kept Becca Ruckes on the bench for 11 minutes of the first half Friday night.
“It isn’t fun,” said Ripley’s 6-foot-1 senior post player.
Ruckes came back to the court with a vengeance in the second half to score 18 points and grab seven rebounds to lead the defending state champion Lady Tigers to a 56-44 victory over Southeast Lauderdale in the semifinals of the MHSAA Class 3A State Tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum.
“We didn’t have an answer for Ruckes,” SE Lauderdale coach Joe Miller said. “She killed us in the paint. She has a very strong game.”
Ripley (28-4) advanced to the state championship game scheduled for 7 p.m. March 1 against the winner of today’s semifinal game between Belmont and Choctaw Central. It’s the third straight season for the Lady Tigers to reach the title game.
“Being here is really big for us,” Ripley coach Katie Bates said. “I think we have as good a chance to win as anybody. It doesn’t matter who we play (in the championship game).”
Building a lead
Bates figured her team could build on its 22-18 halftime lead once Ruckes returned to the lineup in the second half.
“When Becca came back into the game she basically took over the paint offensively and defensively,” Bates said. “She forced them to alter their shots.
“Being able to get the ball into her opened things up for our guards.”
Ripley guard Jayla Chills, who scored 17 points, kick-started her club to open the third quarter, scoring the first six points.
Ruckes added eight points and Daisha Colom had four points to help the Lady Tigers build a 40-24 lead.
However, SE Lauderdale responded with a 7-0 run to open the fourth quarter to cut Ripley’s lead to 40-31.
Ruckes answered by powering an 8-0 Ripley run to push the Tigers’ lead back to 48-31 with under 4 minutes remaining.
“In the second half, we settled in and started playing like we wanted to, putting pressure on the ball, getting turnovers and getting some transition baskets,” Bates said. “Transition defense is what we talked about at halftime.
“In the second half we did a good job getting the steal, the rebound, the outlet pass and getting the ball up the floor.”
SE Lauderdale (25-10) was led in scoring by Kamesha Pringle with 14 points. Colom added 10 points for Ripley.