North Panola, the lightning-quick underdog, had just cut the undefeated Lady Bulldogs’ lead to 54-48 on Newsom’s field goal.
“You get worried,” admitted New Albany center Micha Washington. “You don’t want to see all the hard work you’ve done end.”
Washington did her part to keep New Albany’s quest for a state championship alive, scoring 10 points in her team’s challenge-answering 30-7 run that enabled them to rally for an 84-55 victory Friday in the quarterfinals of the MHSAA North 4A tournament at Memorial Gym.
“That was the toughest 29-point win I’ve ever had,” a relieved New Albany coach John Stroud said. “North Panola’s a good team. They’re fast and shoot the ball well.”
New Albany (29-0) plays Pontotoc (23-5) at 6 p.m. today in the semifinals. The Lady Warriors defeated Yazoo County 46-35 to get a third shot at the top-rated Lady Bulldogs.
In another quarterfinal, Lafayette (28-1) defeated Amory (16-10) 64-44 to advance to a semifinal showdown against Kosciusko or Humphreys County.
Washington at her ‘best’
Washington, a 6-foot-1 junior, scored 31 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to power New Albany’s attack.
“That was my best game,” she said. “I knew I had to step up and be a leader. I was finding the right spot and my teammates were getting me the ball.”
Stroud praised his lanky post player’s performance in a do-or-die game.
“Micha was the difference,” he said. “She’s a good finisher.”
Stroud said the exit of his team’s leading scorer, Jazmine Spears, because of foul trouble late in the third quarter forced his four-guard lineup to look for Washington on the blocks.
“We got a lot of points driving and dishing the ball to Micha,” he said. “She finished.”
New Albany built a 23-7 lead in the first quarter behind Spears, who scored 12 of her 22 points.
North Panola (20-9) used its quickness and its press to stage a second-quarter comeback. The Lady Cougars finished with an 8-0 run to trail just 35-27 at halftime.
The Lady Bulldogs, behind Washington’s strong inside play, pushed their lead back to 16 points late in the third quarter, 54-38.
“They were good,” Washington said. “They gave us a run for our money.”
Newsom scored a team-high 19 and Brittney Patton finished with 13 for North Panola. Paris Sanders added 11 for the Lady Bulldogs.
Pontotoc 46, Yazoo County 35
- The Lady Warriors continued their rebound from a disappointing division tournament showing – two losses – to record their second straight postseason win.
Rhandi Ball scored a game-high 18 points, four coming in the final 21⁄2 minutes, to lead Pontotoc (23-5).
However, it was a 3-pointer by Kayla Russell with 3:05 remaining that gave the Lady Warriors some breathing room. Her perimeter bomb gave Pontotoc a 42-35 lead.
“We’re enjoying this ride,” said Pontotoc coach Bill Russell, whose team was 8-18 last season. “This is a big turn-around from last year.”
Ball says she’s looking forward to a rematch against the state’s top team.
“Everybody will have to be on for us to win,” she said. “We need to do what we’re supposed to do and play hard the whole game. I’m excited.”
Lafayette 64, Amory 44
- Phylisha Fonden scored 17 points and Shaquilla Isom added 16 to lead Lafayette (28-1) into the semifinals against Humphreys County, a 77-51 winner against Kosciusko.