February 13, 2013 12:04:28 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
BATESVILLE -- Columbus High School girls basketball coach Yvonne Hairston knew the pressure of the moment was getting to her squad.
Hairston never panicked, though, because she believed her troops would persevere and come through in the end.
After first-half struggles, Columbus pulled away to a 60-41 victory against Grenada in an opening-round game of the Class 6A, Region 2 tournament at South Panola High.
Top-seeded Columbus will face second-seeded Tupelo at 6 p.m. Friday for the region championship. Both teams will play Monday in the opening round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association North State Class 6A playoffs. Friday's winner will earn a first-round home game.
Four weeks ago, Columbus beat Grenada 66-25. The third meeting between the squads held much more drama. Still, few could have conceived a 32-all tie with the clock winding down in the third quarter.
"This is the district tournament," Hairston said. "This is the only game that matters. You play your entire season to get ready for this one night. There is a lot of pressure. Everybody is going to play above their potential. Grenada had a great game plan, executed, and played well. We didn't do things right. We could not find the basket early. We are a shooting team, but you will see nights like this, especially when you are playing on the road."
Many outmanned teams will result to the stall in region tournament elimination games. To Grenada's credit, it applied pressure and held on as long as possible.
After a nip-and-tuck first half, neither team could find much separation. The Lady Falcons (15-6) sprinted to leads of eight and six points, but the Lady Chargers (5-16) only trailed 30-26 at halftime.
"We really had to play hard if we wanted to win," Columbus senior KaDaryl Ledbetter said. "We had to dig a little deeper because Grenada played a really great game. It was really up to the guards to step it up and make sure we got the win since this was a game we had to have to keep going."
Grenada tied the game at 32 with a 6-2 run to start the second half. After more than three minutes in the third quarter, Kiki Patterson made a critical steal that led to a fast-break layup by Daisha Williams that gave Columbus the lead for good.
"It was good to see the balance (on offense)," Hairston said. "We had to have it to win this game. Kiki did not have a good shooting night. However, she did what she is supposed to do as a leader. She got the ball out in transition. She got the ball to the other guards and we finished in the end."
Columbus used its transition game to piece together a game-changing 8-2 run. The Lady Falcons also relied on their full-court pressure to force turnovers and carry a 45-38 lead into the final period.
Ledbetter scored 18 points to lead the Lady Falcons. Patterson and Williams each added 17 points. Ledbetter showed her offensive prowess in the final quarter. Columbus allowed only one field goal in the final period.
"I just did what was best for my team," Ledbetter said. "I tried to step up and score the basketball. Kiki has really become a great penetrator and ball handler. The more players we have involved in the offense, the better this team can become."
Hairston believes that balance will be critical as the Lady Falcons being their annual flirtation with Jackson to reach the state championship tournament. That balance starts when Patterson, arguably the team's best player, gets everybody involved on offense.
"Kiki has really emerged as a great penetrator and ball handler," Hairston said. "Everyone knows she is a threat on offense. When she can help set the others players up, we are a much better team. We are an offensive-minded team and we like to shoot, so production from multiple places on the floor is a good thing."
Heaven Lott led Grenada with 14 points, while Emily Bush added 11.
With a playoff berth secured, Columbus can turn its thoughts to a region championship. If a previous meeting is any indication, the game should be intense. Columbus defeated Tupelo 50-49 at home but lost 75-52 on the road.
"Even though Tuesday night was the biggest game because it was an elimination game, every game is a big game," Hairston said. "As a coach, you treat every game in the postseason as a must win simply because it is a playoff game. You want to be playing your best. We have another chance to come out Friday night and to be at our best."
Said Ledbetter, "We are very excited about being in the playoffs, but we are not stopping now because we want to be the region champs."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter