Maybe it’s an old cliché’ that defense wins championships, but the Neshoba Central Lady Rockets certainly proved it to be true during their 2016-2017 basketball campaign.

The Lady Rockets wrapped their season up Friday night when they defeated West Point 56-45 in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A girls state tournament. The Lady Rockets finished with a 19-10 record.

From day one, Coach Fred Morris has always emphasized defense.

“You are going to have off nights on offense but you can always play good defense,” Morris said in his first interview with the Democrat back in November of 2011. “We can always hustle and play defense.”

 Each year since, he has held to it. There have been years when his teams were low scorers but they got after the opposition with a grinding defense. This year, they had players like Taylor Ben, Relissa Ray, Andria Carter, Kaylee Routh and Jasmine Chickaway who not only could play defense but they could put some points on the scoreboard on a given night.

It developed into a championship combination.

The Lady Rockets did not look like a championship team when the season started back in November. They didn’t like it in December or January, either. But something started to happen in February. Neshoba Central beat Vicksburg and finished third in the region regular season standings. Then they went down to Petal and crushed the Lady Panthers 46-18 in the regular season finale.

 “We finally played defense the way we know how,” Coach Fred Morris said.

The Lady Rockets had some time to prepare for the district tournament which was going to be on their home court. After beating Ridgeland in the opening game, they faced a high scoring Lanier girls teams that was ranked in the top 5 in the state. They beat the Lady Bulldogs 62-52 to earn a first round bye in the playoffs and the rest is history as they marched to the finals.

After each victory, Morris expressed that he never thought they would get this far in the playoffs, but here they were. Playing and beating teams that were physically bigger and stronger with a grinding defense and enough points to win.

“I am so proud of this team and these players,” Morris said. “We have been working to improve since the season started back in November. We were there then but they never stopped playing hard. Now we are state champions.”