Lady Rockets bring home state 5A championship
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 6:00 PM
JACKSON - Unbelievable.
Neshoba Central's Relissia Ray (31) drives against West Point during MHSAA 5A Girls Finals held March 10th at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
That’s how Neshoba Central coach Fred Morris summed up his Lady Rocket basketball team’s rise to the Class 5A girls state championship Friday night after they defeated West Point 56-45 in the title game.
“We found a way to win,” Morris said. “We stuck to the task. We fought hard. We never gave up and the hard work paid off.”
The Lady Rockets were certainly not the favorites to win state when the postseason started. They entered the region tournament with a 13-10 record. But they wouldn’t lose again. First, they won the region tournament and drew a first round bye in the playoffs. They defeated Germantown in the second round on their home court. They advanced to the third round where they defeated Hattiesburg and advanced to the semifinals. Last week, they defeated Lanier and advanced to the championship game where they faced West Point, a team they had split with during the regular season.
Physically, West Point was taller that the Lady Rockets. But Neshoba Central’s tenacious defense kept the Lady Wave from getting second and third shots from under the basket. Led by the hard-charging No. 32 Andria Carter, the Lady Rockets battled West Point up and down the court and under the basket. Taylor Ben led the Lady Rockets with nine rebounds and Carter had eight. Neshoba Central finished with nine steals, led by Carter’s four.
Until the second half, the biggest lead by either team was four points. Neshoba Central led 12-10 after the first quarter and 28-26 at the half. At the start of the third quarter, Relissa Ray sank a three-point shot that gave the Lady Rockets a 31-26 lead with less than a minute gone. West Point chipped away at that advantage and tied the game at 33-33 with 2:15 remaining in the quarter. In the time remaining, Carter sank two baskets which were answered by Aamiya Rush and Amari Heard of West Point. Going into the final quarter, the score was tied at 37-37.
In the time that counted in the fourth quarter, the Lady Rockets would outscore West Point 17-5. It was a gradual process. Carter sank a field goal and a free throw to make it a three point-lead. West Point scored and Carter scored again. Then Relissa Ray scored, making it 44-39. With 1:20, Neshoba Central went up 50-42 on Ray’s free throw. Then Ben hit four free throws in a row to give the Lady Rockets a 54-42 advantage with 46 seconds left. Neshoba Central closed the deal and celebrated their championship.
“We wanted it,” Carter said afterwards. “We played defense to the end. We kept on playing hard.”
Ben was named the C-Spire player of the game and Carter received the Class 5A girls scholastic award.
Ray led with 18 points while Ben scored 16 and Carter scored nine. Rush was the leading scorer for West Point with 20 points.
Neshoba Central finished the season with a 19-10 record while West Point closed at 21-6.
Remembered from now on …
Neshoba Central captured its first state championship in girls basketball since 1991. In a way, Morris used that 1991 team as motivation going into the final game.
A large poster photo of the 1991 championship team is on the wall of the Neshoba Central gym, along with a list of their accomplishments. In the Lady Rockets’ final practice, Morris reminded the team of what a state championship would mean.
“I pointed that 1991 picture out to them,” Morris said. “I reminded them they would be on that wall from now on if we won. Now we are going to be right beside them.”
Lady Rockets 36
Lady Rockets coach Fred Morris has stressed playing strong defense since he took the job six years ago. It paid off last Tuesday as the Neshoba Central girls defeated Lanier 36-32 in the semifinals.
Andria Carter had seven steals and nine rebounds to lead the Lady Rockets. Jasmine Chickaway led the scoring with 11 points.
Neshoba Central led 11-4 at the end of the first quarter. Lanier would limit them to one field goal in the second quarter while scoring 10. The Lady Bulldogs led 14-13 at the half.
Neshoba Central outscored Lanier 10-5 in the third quarter and that was the difference. Both teams scored 10 points in the final stanza.
It was the fourth meeting between the two teams. Lanier won the two regular season games. Neshoba Central defeated the Lady Bulldogs in the region tournament finals and now in the state semifinals.