January 12, 2013 11:09:44 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
Girls basketball players at New Hope High School had a message to send Friday night.
The Lady Trojans needed 43 seconds to deliver it.
New Hope scored the game's first six points and never looked back, rolling to a 79-35 victory against Oxford in a showdown between Class 5A, Region 2 leaders.
The games matched teams ranked third (Oxford) and fourth (New Hope) in Class 5A in this week's rankings by The Clarion-Ledger. The teams weren't that close Friday.
While New Hope (14-2, 2-0 region) played its most complete game of the season, even the Lady Trojans were a tad bit surprised by the outcome.
"That was really amazing," New Hope junior D.J. Sanders said. "Everybody knew if we worked together, we could win. Nobody expected anything quite like this. This win will help us out the rest of the season. We felt disrespected when the rankings came out. We felt like should have been where they were and they should have been where we were. I think we showed people that we belonged."
Oxford (14-4, 0-1) played without Alexus Malone, who entered the night averaging 20.5 points per game, but the senior guard tweaked an ankle during warmups.
"We knew Oxford would be a little down emotionally," New Hope coach Laura Lee Holman said. "A fast start was so important to us because we thought they might be down a little bit. We have been a second-half team. However, I really challenged the girls to come out and make it our game early."
The Lady Trojans did just that. New Hope scored the final 10 points to build an 18-4 advantage after one period.
"We thought it was really important to come out and focused and ready to go," New Hope senior Antonia Jethroe said. "We have had a lot of trouble playing against Oxford, so this game was real personal to us. We knew we needed to get a win if we are to have the kind of season that we want to have."
The Lady Chargers won all 33 games played a season en route to the Class 5A state championship. Oxford beat New Hope 79-50 in Lafayette County and 72-61 in Lowndes County. Oxford also won all three meetings the season before, including an elimination game in the Class 5A, Region 2 tournament.
"This was a really big hurdle to get over mentally," Holman said. "I am so proud of the girls because they did what we had practiced to do. Oxford had really had their way with us the last couple of seasons. To change that around, we knew we were going to have play close to a perfect game. We really took charge early and did a lot of things right."
Three consecutive baskets by Sanders pushed the Lady Trojans to a 26-6 advantage. Oxford never mounted a legitimate threat as New Hope's full-court pressure forced turnover after turnovers.
"The key to the game was playing fast," New Hope junior Moesha Calmes said. "We tried to do everything fast. We have been doing that a lot lately, and that has allowed us to do more things. Even getting the ball into the front court, we try to do that fast. We try to beat the other team back."
Mission accomplished. The Lady Trojans were excellent in transition. A defensive rebound became an outlet pass and moved into the front court in seconds.
The offensive answers were plentiful.
Sanders led the way with 21 points. Jethroe added 14, while Kristen Phillips had 12. Calmes added 11.
"We have played together for a while now," Sanders said. "Everybody is real comfortable with one another. You saw tonight what happens when we play together as a team and everybody gets involved. We had players coming in and playing and contributing. You can tell we have a lot of fun out there and it leads to good play."
Jethroe said this team is built for a late-season push.
"This team has really improved a lot," Jethroe said. "We listen to our coaches and we work real hard in practice. You can tell that we are getting better each day. A win like this will help our confidence for the remainder of the season."
Not willing to let the champions off the mat, New Hope applied full-court pressure throughout the second half. The Lady Trojans built a 62-22 lead after three quarters.
"It was really important that we sent a message," Holman said. "Our kids needed to understand they can play these types of games and that they can play with these types of teams. I think you will see the confidence level rise after a performance like this.
"We are 2-0 in the region, but there is a long way to go, and we have to keep working at it. We have the region tournament at home, and that is important. However, you want to put yourself in a position to be the top seed. We are working hard to get that point."
Oxford received 13 points from Janesha Johnson and 11 points from Tamara Wadlington.
New Hope will play host to Pickens County on Tuesday. It will return to region play Friday when it plays at West Point.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter