By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Kayla Russell thought her 3-point shot attempt from the left baseline wasn’t going in.
“I thought it was going to skip off the glass,” said Pontotoc’s sophomore guard.
It skipped all right … right through the net with 17 seconds remaining, to help lift the Lady Warriors to a pulse-pounding 72-68 victory over Forrest County AHS Friday night in the MHSAA Class 4A State Tournament championship game.
“I don’t know how it went in,” said Russell, who scored 17 points, connected on four 3-pointers, and was named the game’s MVP. “It’s just exciting.”
Russell’s teammate, senior guard Quinn Ford, iced the win at the Mississippi Coliseum with 7 seconds left when she sank a free throw for her game-high 28th point.
The late heroics by Ford and Russell helped Pontotoc rally from a 9-point deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
“They made the plays in the fourth quarter,” Forrest County AHS coach Michael Thornton said.
Pontotoc (34-0) finished unbeaten to win the program’s first state championship since 1977. FCAHS (29-1) is now 0-2 in title games, having lost in 1952.
Moments before Russell’s big shot, the Lady Aggies had tied the score at 68-68 on a layup by Samantha Clemts.
On the go-ahead play, guard Anna Rosenbaum fired a pass to an open Russell, who was pointing to an open teammate, Nikki McMillian, under the goal.
“I looked up and saw Nikki, but it was too late,” Rosenbaum said. “I saw Kayla. I was going on instinct. I knew Kayla would make the shot, she’s been hitting all year.”
Russell says that by the time she got the pass from Rosenbaum, McMillian was no longer free.
“So, I shot it,” Russell said.
“Kayla’s shot was amazing,” Ford added. “She hits those all the time.”
Russell’s father, who just happens to be the Lady Warriors’ coach, Bill Russell, said his daughter has a shooter’s mentality.
“She called a bank shot … I heard her,” he said, then grinned. “On a dad’s side, I was proud of her. All these kids are my daughters. I would have been proud of any kid who hit that shot.”
Ford, who transferred from Okolona, recorded a double-double, pulling down 16 rebounds to go with her 28 points. She scored 11 of those points in the fourth quarter.
“Quinn took the game over,” Bill Russell said. “There could have been two players of the game. Actually there could have been about 10.
“Nobody quit on this team. It goes to everybody.”
Kayla Russell believes Ford is the reason the gold ball is coming home to Pontotoc County.
“Quinn helped us more than anything,” she said. “If we hadn’t had her, I don’t know if we had made it all the way.”
For Pontotoc, McMillian added 12 points. Samantha Clemts led the Lady Aggies with 22. Her sister, Kimberly, scored 13 and Tmisht Stinson added 12.