By Gene Phelps
JACKSON – Thursday’s MHSAA Class 4A girls state tournament game between Forest Hill and New Albany looked like a mismatch on paper.
Forest Hill, with five seniors in its starting lineup, was at the Mississippi Coliseum for a third consecutive season.
New Albany, with three sophomores and an eighth grader on the floor, was the state tournament novice.
In the end, experience did win out. Forest Hill hung on for a 49-38 victory, but New Albany’s youngsters exited the Big House knowing they were just three points down with 3 minutes, 16 seconds remaining.
“We were still right there … we had a chance, but we couldn’t make the big basket when we needed it,” New Albany coach John Stroud said. “We had a great season. Nobody expected this out of these girls at the start of the season.”
A putback by New Albany sophomore post player Micha Washington was the basket that cut the Lady Patriots’ lead to 41-38. However, Forest Hill closed the deal by hitting 6-of-8 free throws and a field goal down the stretch.
Forest Hill (30-4) was the stronger team inside with 6-foot-1 post player Courtney Marbra scoring a game-high 17 points.
It didn’t help matters that New Albany’s eighth grade sensation, 5-11 Jazmine Spears, spent some time on the bench in foul trouble and played the fourth period with a sprained left ankle she suffered midway through the third.
Marbra “was hard to guard,” said Spears, who finished with six points, seven rebounds and four steals. “She’s taller and has longer arms. When they’d throw it over my head it was hard to guard her. When she got the ball she was tough with it.”
Spears fouled out with 2:41 remaining. It was only the second time this season she had fouled out of a game.
“It was physical on both ends of the floor,” Stroud said. “Maybe Jazmine’s inexperience got her a couple of more fouls.”
From the perimeter, Bianca Powell provided 16 more points for the Lady Patriots, who advanced to next Wednesday’s semifinal against North champion Yazoo City.
New Albany (27-5) struggled offensively, with the exception of sophomore guard Kebrina Lucas, who finished with 15 points. Nine of her points came on 3-pointers.
The Bulldogs’ 38-point effort was its lowest total of the season.
“We weren’t very crisp,” Stroud said. “I think it was just young kids playing for the first time in the coliseum. Usually we shoot a lot better.”
New Albany’s frequent misses and fight for offensive boards kept it from recovering on defense in the second half, which freed up the powerful Marbra.
“We feel good in transition when we can get (Marbra) one-on-one,” Forest Hill coach Tommy Groves said.
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