February 23, 2013 11:12:59 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
CANTON -- Seize the moment.
After everything the Lanier High School girls basketball team has been through this season, that concept wasn't lost on Brittany Rose on Friday night.
Despite her lack of success and the team's struggles form 3-point range early in the game, Rose received the green light from her coach and let another one fly with the game on the line.
In Jackson, Morgan Catchings must have heard the roar from the crowd.
Whether it was in the fourth quarter or in overtime, Rose provided the daggers that kept the season alive and then pushed Lanier past New Hope 62-59 in the semifinals of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class 5A North State tournament at Canton High.
The victory helped Lanier advance to Saturday's North State title game against Canton, which defeated Provine. The victories secured both teams spots in the overall state tournament in Jackson, while Provine and New Hope (25-5) saw their seasons end.
"I wasn't making them at first and I was like, 'Should I stop shooting or should I keep going so they can fall?'" Rose said. "(Lanier coach Jonas James) told me to keep going, so I just kept going and they started falling."
Rose's first trey helped Lanier rally from a 52-47 deficit with 46.1 seconds remaining. Mercedes Mattix hit two free throws with New Hope in the one-and-one to give the Lady Trojans the cushion.
But University of Southern Mississippi signee Kierra Jordan (game-high 21 points) scored on an offensive rebound putback with 35.7 seconds to play. New Hope then turned the ball over to leave the door open. Rose, a freshman, took a pass on the left wing and drained the tying shot with 22.5 seconds left.
"We work on that all the time," James said. "I never tell my girls not to shoot the ball. I just ask them to be down and ready and take opportunities. We don't want to force shots, but if you catch it in motion and in stride, I want you to shoot it until I tell you not to shoot it anymore. That's what happened to Brittany.
"Brittany was missing and she came to me and asked me, 'Coach, do you want me to keep shooting?' I said, 'Yes, I just want you to move up to the line a little bit more.' That's the way we practice. I knew she was going to make it. I just needed her to keep believing, and she believed."
New Hope didn't call timeout on its final possession and nearly didn't get a shot off. Taylor Baudoin missed a 3-pointer just before the final horn.
The teams traded blows in the extra session, as Baudoin (six points) scored first and Rose answered with a drive. Kristy Armwood hit a 3-pointer for Lanier, only to have Kaitlin Bradley (15) respond with a 3-pointer form just left of the top of the key with 1:47 to go. Jordan scored on a turnaround jumper in the lane before D.J. Sanders (team-high 16) took a pass from Baudoin and scored inside. Twenty seconds later, Rose delivered again from the left wing to account for the final margin.
"In the fourth quarter and overtime, I am like, 'I am going to make these threes I am shooting,'" Rose said. "I thought the 3-pointer (that tied the game) was going to come out because it rolled around the rim."
James said Rose has a shooter's mentality even though she is only a freshman. He said Rose played an integral role as an eighth-grader in her middle school's team's march to a city championship. Last season, Rose had 22 points in the championship game, and, according to James, was shooting threes then.
"She was looking for it a whole lot more," James said. "When you have a Dandy Dozen player like Kierra on your team, you're kind of in her shadow, but we play team ball. Kierra trusts you, you trust her. That's what they were doing."
New Hope committed a turnover and then got the ball right back on another turnover. Coach Laura Lee Holman called timeout with 31.1 seconds remaining. Bradley missed a 3-pointer out of the timeout, but Baudoin rebounded the ball and the Lady Trojans held it until 6.8 seconds were left before calling another timeout. Bradley rubbed off a screen by Baudoin in the deep right corner and gave the ball back to Baudoin, but Jordan blocked the shot as the final seconds ticked off.
"I really feel like it comes down to the point they have been here before and we haven't," Holman said. "Down the stretch they were able to keep their composure because we did some things tonight that we haven't done in a long time. Part of that is just being here and knowing what to expect. Lanier is playing for something more than a 'W' right now. They have made their promises to Morgan, and tonight I think we were playing a pretty fired up Lanier team. They did a great job of taking away some of our tools. We had a lot of turnovers, and I don't know how much of that was from this little extra pressure of being that type of game.
"I thought it was a great high school girls basketball game. You couldn't have asked for a better game. I am very proud of my kids. They gave me everything they had. Sometimes it is not your night. The kid hits a wide-open 3-pointer off the fast break to send tie the game and to send it to overtime. It is what it is."
Earlier in the day, New Hope visited Catchings, a junior point guard on the Lanier High team, at Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson where Catchings is receiving treatment after being diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.
Holman said she wanted to do something special for Catchings once she discovered her team would face Lanier in the North State tournament. Holman said New Hope assistant girls basketball coach Amy Fletcher suggested the team go see Catchings in the hospital, so that's what the team did. Holman said the Lady Trojans visited Catchings after lunch, shared a devotion with her, gave her gifts, and shared prayers with her.
The devotion Holman selected to read to Catchings focused on Joseph and how his life was interrupted when he was "living the high life" and the next moment he was a prisoner and in slavery. She said the devotion highlighted the importance of being able to endure and to depend on God when life gets interrupted. She said it is important to realize those interruptions are part of God's plan that involves "something bigger for you if you will endure and depend on Him and allow Him to grow you through that."
Holman said the trip to see Catchings is just part of what she loves about coaching high school sports.
"I love coaching basketball, but one of my favorite things is it gives me an opportunity to prepare these kids for life and life lessons," Holman said. "My message about Morgan was don't take things for granted, and sometimes God interrupts your plan and throws you a wrinkle, whatever you ant to call it, and it is how you endure and push through those times how He is able to use you and lead you into bigger and better things.
"Tonight is that same lesson. You don't take things for granted. Yeah, we wanted to win, but somewhere in God's plan it was something different and we have to work harder, be smarter, and play harder. I think that lesson has been learned tonight. As I am building this program, I think it is an awesome lesson this program needs to learn. It will be remembered for years to come."
Like Lanier, New Hope wore orange socks in support of Catchings and to raise awareness about leukemia. Orange is the color for leukemia awareness. Holman, Fletcher, and assistant coach Laura Trenor also wore pieces of orange clothing or orange ribbons to honor Catchings.
After the game, Holman said the loss punctuated the lesson everyone learned earlier in the day.
"I told them in the locker room this is what we talked about," Holman said. "You can't take those moments at practice for granted. You can't take each other for granted. It is just that simple. I think both lessons tie in very strongly. I told the girls in a way Lanier is fighting for something more than just a 'W'. If us losing sends Lanier to state and they're doing this for Morgan, maybe this gives Morgan a little fight on those tough days (and makes her believe), 'My team went and fought and made it to the Final Four for me, I am going to fight a little bit more. If we have to be the stepping stone for a kid laying in a bed fighting leukemia to have a little more fight in her spirit, I will take it. I will be used by God. That is how we will look at it to turn it into a positive any way we can."
New Hope used its pressure defense and hot shooting to lead for most of the first half. It built a 15-8 lead in the first quarter, only to see Lanier take the lead 23-21 on a three-point play by Jordan with 2:31 to play in the second quarter. Gabby Murray answered with a 3-pointer and Kristen Phillips hit 1 of 2 free throws before Eden Henry hit a 3-pointer to give Lanier a 26-25 halftime lead.
Mattix (11 points) hit a 3-pointer and Bradley added two more to fuel an 11-2 run that gave New Hope a 36-28 lead early in the third quarter. The lead shifted from three to five to six points in the first part of the fourth quarter until Jordan scored on a driving layup to cut the deficit to 48-47 with 3:18 left.
"It affected us a lot," James said. "We saw New Hope this summer at the Mississippi State Shootout. I told my girls then, I don't know what the rankings will be, but I guarantee New Hope will be in the thick of things in the end. These girls can really play.
"I knew if we didn't run up and down the floor like them and just took our time and handled the pressure, we would do good. We can't run up and down the floor like them. They can really get after you if you try to do what they do. We just had to play Lanier High School girls basketball."
That No. 4 up there, she is an athlete out of this world. She is something special. She has long arms and can get her hands on everything. She is athletic. I wish I was a college coach. I would be up at New Hope." Mattix came up with another big play by anticipating a cross-court pass, knocking the ball away, and driving in for a layup that made it 50-47 with 1:50 remaining. Lanier missed another 3-pointer to set up Mattix's free throws that kicked the lead to five.
"We were really close," Mattix said. "We're going to let it sting and let us get here next year with our eight seniors."
New Hope loses seniors Lauren Holifield, Murray, and Antonia Jethroe to graduation. A deep and experienced junior class figures to return next season armed with the lessons they have learned on an off the court. Mattix and Holman said those lessons will motivate them.
"It is really hard because we have been working so hard," Mattix said. "Like coach told us in the locker room, it has been 740 days since we were 6-16. We have been working really hard since then.
"We have come a long way. We have worked really hard to get our name out there and to let people know who we are and we are not just some mediocre team. ... We're going to use this for motivation to put our names on the wall in the gym," Mattix said. "That's what our goal is for next year."
Said Holman, "We have four losses this year, and those four losses would come against what I would call championship programs. Those four times we didn't show up to play. We showed up to play them, not to beat them. Tonight, I think my kids learned a great lessons as we are trying to build this thing up that might take us farther than what a 'W' did. I told the kids to hang on to a piece of this pain you're feeling right now because it will take you far, far in life, and it will take this program a little further. You will work a little harder in practice those days when you don't feel like going. All we have to do is reflect on this day and you will find you have a little more fuel in your tank and you will be willing to do whatever it takes to get here again. You just tasted such a little piece of it, and I think that little taste, I think we will be back here again, for sure.
"I think this loss is really going to give us that extra fight to get back here. That is what I ended with in the locker room. I made them look me in the eye and promise me we're going to be back here next year. You fight, you scrap, you stay and you shoot extra shots, and we turn bad practices into good practices. That is what it is going to take to get us back here next year. Now you know. I think now we have a taste of it - for me as well. This is my fifth year of coaching. It was a great experience for me. I think I learned more tonight than I did all season. We lose three seniors, but all of our starters are coming back. I hope and pray everything works out and we do what we have to do get there and again, and, hopefully, we will get to that next stone and get to Jackson."
n New Hope 11, Hamilton 0: At Columbus, Landon Boyd threw three innings and J.C. Redden and Taylor Stafford each threw an inning to lead the Trojans to a mercy-rule shortened victory in their opener.
Will Golsan had a single, Parker Earhart had two singles, Stafford had a double and a single, Tee Payne, Rooke Coleman, and Boyd had singles, and Redden had a double.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.