February 22, 2014 7:59:25 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
SALTILLO -- The New Hope High School girls basketball team stayed the course Friday night.
Coming off 29- and 35-point regular-season victories against Oxford, many expected New Hope to have another comfortable evening en route to a home playoff game next week.
Part of that equation played out, although in a much different manner than expected.
New Hope used a 16-0 run to start the third quarter to turn the tide and then pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Oxford 46-38 to win the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Region 2, District title at Saltillo High.
"It's a lot like I drew it up," New Hope coach Laura Lee Holman said. "We just haven't had a good week of practice. The effort has been there, but we weren't doing the small things. I know Oxford and I know coach Lindsey, and I knew he was going to have his girls ready."
Taylor Baudoin led New Hope (26-2) with 16 points, while D.J Sanders added 13. Moesha Calmes had eight points, Kaitlin Bradley poured in five points to provide a spark in the third quarter, and Mercedes Mattix added four.
New Hope will play host to Center Hill at 7 p.m. Monday in its first game of the Class 5A North State tournament. It's a step the Lady Trojans expected to reach, even if they had to overcome a series of things that scripted an ideal scenario for an upset that Holman talked about before the game.
New Hope lost center LaClaudia Keaton to a left ankle injury with 4 minutes, 41 seconds to go in the second quarter. The Lady Trojans already were playing without Sanders and Baudoin, who were on the bench with foul trouble. A string of six consecutive turnovers followed Keaton's injury and allowed the Chargers to turn a 12-10 deficit into a 24-12 halftime lead.
"If it went wrong it could have gone wrong," Holman said of the team's play in the first half. "I feel there were stretches we were trying to get it back in pone possessions, which caused even more problems."
New Hope committed nine turnovers in the quarter, including a number of them that were unforced, and missed its only two shots from the field. The Lady Trojans had few opportunities to "attack the gap," as Holman shouted early in the quarter because they appeared rushed and tried to get back into the game in one play, even with as many as four seniors on the court for much of the stanza.
"In the first half, we really didn't come ready to play," Baudoin said. "We were playing like Oxford was just going to give it to us. We weren't doing the little things like coach Holman said. That is pretty much what she said at halftime."
Things changed in a hurry in the third quarter. Rested and primed to attack, Sanders and Baudoin returned to give New Hope the defensive charge it lacked. Sanders, who plays at the front of the Lady Trojans' press, helped New Hope force five turnovers in the quarter. New Hope also blocked four shots in the quarter and changed the tempo of the game into an up-and-down affair that allowed it to score in transition. Still, New Hope had five turnovers in the quarter and led only 32-31 entering the final eight minutes thanks to a basket by Baudoin.
In the fourth quarter, New Hope used a jumper by Calmes off an assist from Baudoin to take the lead for good, 34-33, with 6 minutes, 50 seconds to go. The Lady Trojans capitalized on the faster pace by attacking the basket and then crashing the boards for offensive rebounds. Sanders converted putbacks on consecutive possessions and, following a turnover, Baudoin added another offensive rebound putback to push the margin back to 42-37 with 2:45 remaining. Oxford committed two turnovers down the stretch, while New Hope hit 5 of 6 free throws to seal the deal.
"Our defense was able to create some transition and we were able to get them out of their rhythm," Holman said. "I think that really made a difference. It all came back to playing better defense, getting in a lower stance, closing out better, boxing out better, and running the play that coach Holman has had them run all week in practice.
"I will take it. It is definitely our ugliest one of the year, but to be tested right now is exactly what we need. I am proud of them for fighting it out. It was a toughness battle all night. I felt there were a lot of times we weren't the tougher team. I think once we started being a little tougher and mentally stronger that is when things started to turn our way."
Baudoin said it was "terrible" to sit and watch her teammates struggle in the second quarter. She smiled, looked to Sanders, and laughed when asked how many times Holman encourages the Lady Trojans to do the little things to have success. She believes the team learned a valuable lesson in that it will need to listen to their coach to help get them through the playoff road and earn a trip to Jackson, the site of the state championship games. Last season, New Hope's run ended prematurely in an overtime loss to Lanier at Canton High. Holman felt her team "melted" in that game and has used the loss as a teaching tool this season. She said the third meeting against Oxford showed New Hope still has things to work on if it is going all the way to the Big House, the site of the state title games. But Holman liked her team's resolve down the stretch, especially how it found a way to seal the deal on a night when so many things worked against it.
The only thing that appeared to come easily happened in the first quarter when Sanders lost a contact lens near the far endline. Sanders spotted the lens and quickly reached down and put it back in a matter of seconds. Less than a year ago, Sanders would have needed a mirror and some saline solution to put the lens back on her eye. She admitted she might not have even been wearing it, but she didn't hesitate putting it back in because she knew the Lady Trojans needed her. She felt it was only a matter of time in the second half before New Hope started to play its game.
"We had a lot of confidence because we knew the reason they were in the game wasn't because of them but it was because of us," Sanders said. "It was turnovers that got them in the game and not doing things like boxing out and running the floor, which is what we do best. We knew once we started doing the things we do it was going to come."
Sanders admitted she thought back to last season and the Lanier game on Friday night. The memories served as motivation, though, and made Her and the Lady Trojans more determined not to have their season derailed by a similar effort.
"Because that is how our season ended last year it kind of motivated us to pick it up," Sanders said. "We realized the game was a lot like Lanier so we have to do something to change it so it won't happen again."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.