Meloney Thames and the Choctaw Central Lady Warriors take on Belmont in the semifinals of the Class 3A State tournament Wednesday, starting at 10:30 a.m.

Photo by 
Bradley Isaac Jr.
Meloney Thames and the Choctaw Central Lady Warriors take on Belmont in the semifinals of the Class 3A State tournament Wednesday, starting at 10:30 a.m. Photo by Bradley Isaac Jr.
At the start of this week, the Choctaw Central Lady Warriors are two wins away from claiming another state championship in the Class 3A Girls State Basketball Tournament.

The only game Coach Bill Smith and the 32-2 Lady Warriors are concerned about tips off Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m. in the Mississippi Coliseum when they take on Belmont High School,

The scores will be posted on The Neshoba Democrat website after the game.

The Lady Warriors are ranked No. 2 in the state according the MaxPreps poll. Belmont comes in at 24-8.

“We have two more games left,” Coach Bill Smith said. “We are no strangers to playing state tournament games in the Big House. We have been here for the past five straight years.”

Choctaw Central is seeking its eighth state championship in school history and their third straight. The Lady Warriors claimed their sixth state championship in girls basketball in March 2017 when they defeated Amanda Elzy 75-42 in the finals and finished the season with a 31-3 record.

Last March, the Lady Warriors defeated Independence 89-56 in the state finals and finished with a 35-1. The Lady Warriors have won state championships in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2017 and 2018.

Since winning the Region 5-3A tournament a couple of week back, the Lady Warriors have soundly beaten Raleigh, Port Gibson and Crystal Springs in their championship quest.

Belmont is the No. 2 team out of Region 1-2A. They have beaten Independence 44-41, Yazoo County 44-39, and South Pontotoc 59-53.

Interestingly, Belmont lost to Kossuth 34-31 in their Region 1-2A championship game. Kossuth, the No. 1 team out of Region 1-2A, plays Forest in the other semifinal game which tips off at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. Forest is the No. 2 team out of Region 5-3A, losing to Choctaw Central in the region championship game. Forest is one of two teams that defeated Choctaw Central this year; the other was Neshoba Central in a rivalry game back in early December.

Who plays who in the championship game Saturday at 1 p.m. will decided Wednesday and until the final buzzer, those are the only two games that count.

Some doubted whether the Lady Warriors would make it back to the Coliseum after last year’s team was hit hard by graduation.

Kaedre’ Denson returned for her senior year. Tia’Rain Saunders started on last year’s team and was coming back for her junior year. Then the new team was named after tryouts. They went through a tough summer schedule. Some were still wondering after they barely broke .500 during the summer.

Then November came. They opened the season in the Choctaw Central Classic and started winning. They won game after game after game...

They may have lost one game in December. But they bounced back to beat Pearl, considered then by MaxPreps to be the No. 1 team in Mississippi.

Coach Smith believes a team gets better by playing the best competition they can find. The Lady Warriors might dominate their region opponents during the week, teams that they have to play. But on Saturdays during December and January, they enter classics against top competition such as Terry, Olive Branch, Lafayette and New Site. All of those teams have gone deep into their respective classification tournament.

“You have to play good competition if you are going to get better,” Coach Smith said. “This was a new team with three sophomores starting. We didn’t know how they would react against strong competition. They have come through and won some big games. Now we are playing our best ball at the right time.

“Belmont isn’t big team. They play man-to-man and they can shoot the ball well from the outside. If we win, maybe we will play Forest again. Maybe we will play Kossuth. But before we can think about that, we have to beat Belmont.”