Monday, March 13, 2017

Olive Branch finishes strong, wins the 6A title

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To get to where Olive Branch wanted to go, it was not going to be pretty.

But while the method of digging itself out of a double-digit hole and holding up the gold ball as the 6A state champions may have not been the preferred way to go about it, it was nonetheless effective.

Using a grinding full-court trap Olive Branch beat Starkville 57-54 on Saturday in Mississippi Coliseum, despite getting less than stellar games from both of its Dandy Dozen players.

“I’m just glad that it worked out,” coach Jason Thompson said.

Myah Taylor, the top player in the state and a Mississippi State signee (for the second game in a row, future head coach Vic Schaefer was watching), finished with 16 points, but she was 5-of-18 from the floor, 0-of-5 from 3-point range and even 6-of-16 at the free throw line. That’s not typical Taylor.

Mahogany Vaught was the player of the game with 14 points, but she was also 4-of-14 from the field. They, and their teammates, were struggling in the first half (8-of-27 FG), and it took a quick four-point burst just to make it 26-21 at halftime against the Lady Jackets (31-1).

“I told them that’s it a long haul, ladies,” Thompson said. “Sometimes a game may be over early but a good team is going to make you fight to the finish. I said, ‘We’re built for this.’ It’s no big thing to us.”

Thompson also made sure Taylor and Vaught knew he was going to ride with them throughout.

“I told them, ‘Stick to it. We’re going to find a way,’” Thompson said. “Win, lose or draw, you always want your best kids to have the ball to give you a chance to win. They’ve been doing it their whole life. Ain’t no different today.”

So as a team they ratcheted up the pressure, to great effect: Starkville turned the ball over eight times in the third quarter and 14 in the second half. The Lady Jackets went the last six minutes of the third quarter and first minute of the fourth without making a field goal.

“We rattled them, the ball-handlers,” Vaught said. “That’s really our game, defense. And it’s what turned us up in the second half.”

It led to some easy Olive Branch baskets, but also a lot of free throws for both sides (55 total). Starkville, to its credit, held on as long as it could on the defensive end, and it was still 49-49 with three minutes to go.

That’s when Taylor (who finished with nine steals) made a series of free throws, and then found Nadia Gillespie along the baseline for a jumper that made it 54-49 and effectively sealed it.

“Words can’t explain it,” Taylor said. “I’m just very proud of my team. Very excited.”

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