Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hattiesburg girls edge Southaven 60-57 in state semifinals

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It is hard for both fans and team members to watch as the Lady Chargers let an 11-point lead slip into a 3-point loss against the Lady Tigers of Hattiesburg High School in semifinal action in the MHSAA Class 6A state tournament at Jackson's Mississippi Coliseum.

Fully containing a future Southeastern Conference guard proved to be just a little bit too much for the Southaven girls basketball team Wednesday night.

Playing in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A semifinals at the Mississippi Coliseum, University of Georgia signee Tiaria Griffin poured in a game-high 28 points to lift Hattiesburg to a 60-57 win. Her 9-of-26 shooting night included four 3-pointers, but more importantly, the 5-foot-9 Griffin sank four key free throws in the final 30 seconds to give the Lady Tigers (22-2) their margin of victory.

Hattiesburg, which plays Forest Hill in Saturday’s championship, was no doubt glad Griffin exhibited her accuracy, as Southaven (29-3) had just under nine seconds to try and force overtime. Neither team had a timeout remaining.

“Our deal is: Behind three, need a three,” said Lady Charger coach David Baldwin, “so we ran that thing down as fast as we could.”

Attempts were made by sophomore A’Queen Hayes (10 points) and junior JoAnna Smith (14 points), yet both tries were off the mark as the buzzer sounded.

“We had two good looks at it for overtime,” Baldwin said. “Just didn’t happen.”

Tied at 30 at halftime, the third quarter featured big runs by both squads. Southaven jumped out to a 43-32 lead on the strength of baskets by Hayes and junior Jasmine Joyner, and seven free throws. Defensively, the Lady Chargers didn’t allow a field goal until Deja Jeanpierre’s 3-pointer at the 2:44 mark. The sophomore’s long-range heroics also fueled Griffin, who went on a personal 7-0 run to trim Hattiesburg’s deficit to six.

Senior Jessica Wilson proceeded to score her team’s first seven points of the fourth and the Lady Tigers pulled even at 51 on a layup by sophomore reserve D’Andrea Eashmond.

“I told them, ‘There’s plenty of game left. Just keep playing hard and keep chipping away, ’ ’’ Hattiesburg coach Caronica DeBose-Jackson said.

Hayes and junior Aliyah Miller (10 points) made buckets with under a minute to play, but Southaven was unable to advance in its first state tournament appearance since 1985.

Sophomore Olivia Cunningham contributed 13 points. Miller and Joyner pulled down 11 rebounds apiece.

“With the game on the line, a little bit of our youth jumped up and bit us on the rear end,” Baldwin said. “We missed too many free throws, too many layups, and we got beat by a better, more experienced team tonight. But I’m proud that we played until the end.”

Senior Alexie Baldwin scored 13 points for Hattiesburg, including three 3-pointers. The Lady Tigers hit five in the opening quarter.

“We shot lights out,” DeBose-Jackson said. “Of course, fresh legs and we were getting the nerves out, but we’ll take it. It kept us in the game.”

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