By Gene Phelps
JACKSON – Kim Mallory says the defensive scheme used by Itawamba AHS is a basic one: “Trap and steal, trap and steal.”
How about: trap and steal, and win a state championship?
Mallory and her teammates did just that in the final 20 seconds of Saturday’s MHSAA Class 4A State Tournament game against No. 1-ranked Bay St. Louis.
The final trap-forced steal, by Constance Dunn with 6 seconds remaining – and with some help from Mallory – iced the 42-41 victory against the defending state champions by the defensive-minded Lady Indians.
Dunn, a sophomore, stole the ball from Bay standout and Vanderbilt signee Christa Reed, who was attempting to drive up court after grabbing a defensive rebound.
“It was a big steal … at the moment,” a shy Dunn said. “That how we play defense, with a lot of pressure.”
The Lady Indians’ aggressive lean, mean and fast style of defense was too much for the bigger and more powerful Lady Tigers to handle.
Bay High (31-4) coughed up 19 turnovers, 13 on steals by IAHS. Dunn and Tori Mallory had four steals each for the Itawamba.
“Give Itawamba credit, their defense caused us problems,” Bay coach Debbie Triplett said.
Itawamba (30-8) won the program’s first state title in girls basketball since 1952, when it was known as Fulton High School.
“We’ve dreamed about this, we’ve talked about it,” said Devin Hill, Itawamba’s boys and first-year girls coach. “We’ve openly discussed being here in Jackson and winning everything.
“Win, lose or draw, I told them at the beginning of the game, ‘I’m so proud of you, nobody expected us to be here in the first place.’’’
Itawamba’s punched Bay High in the mouth from the start, building a 10-2 lead that dwindled to 12-8 at the end of the first quarter.
Dunn hit a layup at the buzzer to send the Lady Indians in a 25-21 leader at halftime. She led her team with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Kim Mallory, who added 13 points, scored on a 3-point play in the final 30 seconds of the third quarter to give the Lady Indians a 37-35 lead headed into the final period.
The fourth quarter was a chess match. Jamyia Hill connected on the Lady Indians’ lone field goal, a 3-pointer with 2:21 remaining. Bree Stewart added a pair of free throws in Itawamba’s 5-point quarter.
Bay High didn’t fair much better, scoring just six points in the quarter.
“Coach (Hill) told us to get after the ball every possession,” said Aniyah Marshall, who contributed a crucial late steal. “He told us defense was going to win this game.”