March 11, 2014 10:32:45 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
JACKSON -- The little things.
Anyone who has watched the New Hope High School girls basketball team this season knows coach Laura Lee Holman has preached about the importance of the details that define victories. On most nights, the Lady Trojans paid attention to the finer points and boxed out, rotated on defense, hit free throws, executed on offense, and hummed like a finely tuned machine. On nights when things didn't go so smoothly, New Hope relied on its pressure defense to create offense that helped it snap it out of its funk.
Monday night was one of those evenings when things didn't go according to plan. Unfortunately, the little things added up to be too much for New Hope to overcome on the state's biggest stage.
Kalen Phillips' drive down the right lane with 10.4 seconds remaining proved to be the final dagger that helped South Jones beat New Hope 50-48 in the semifinals of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state tournament at Mississippi Coliseum.
"I felt like we never quit," Holman said. "We battled and we battled. We kept trying to find a way, but we couldn't find a way to get over the top. But we don't need a trophy to sit in a case to collect dust to know these kids are great kids and they are champions with or without a trophy in my minds."
The loss marked the end of the New Hope careers of eight seniors. D.J. Sanders, who battled foul trouble and led the team with 16 points and 10 rebounds, Mercedes Mattix, Allison Newton, Sylvia Sartori, Taylor Baudoin, Moesha Calmes, Taylor Blevins, and Bradley played integral roles in helping New Hope girls basketball return to prominence.
"For these kids to fight and scrap and buy into my dreams and hopes of resurrecting this program, I am forever in debt to these kids," Holman said. "There is nothing I can ever do for their efforts and desires and the people they have become. There is nothing I can ever repay them with, but maybe some day down the road they will need me. This game and this journey has been priceless."
New Hope (26-3) had a final chance to win or to tie the game with 3.8 seconds to play. Kaitlin Bradley inbounded the basketball from the deep left corner. Her overhand pass found Taylor Baudoin at center court. Baudoin went up high to catch the pass and drove hard with her right hand. With a defender challenging her shot, Baudoin kept the ball on her right hand and laid it high off the glass. The ball crashed off the front of the rim as time expired.
"We were running me and Moe out on the outside and trying to get Kaitlin to chunk it deep and then, hopefully, get a layup or an and-one out of it," said Baudoin, who played only 21 minutes due to foul trouble and was 0-for-7 from the field and had one point. "With three seconds left, (Holman) said, 'Get as close as you can and then go up strong.' I don't know (if there was contact). It just didn't go in. Yeah (I thought it would go in), but it happens.
"It was heartbreaking. You work so hard to get to this point, and for that shot not to go in, there are no words to describe it."
New Hope trailed 43-35 with 5 minutes, 53 seconds remaining before it surged back thanks to a 12-2 run. Calmes (15 points, three assists) hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to ignite the spurt. Bradley (11 points, six rebounds) added another trey and Sanders hit two free throws to tie the game at 45 with 4:05 left. Calmes' jumper with 3:32 gave New Hope a 47-45 lead.
But true to the back-and-forth nature of the game, New Hope couldn't take control. Three missed free throws and a missed drive on the baseline set the stage for a dramatic finish and left New Hope wondering what could have been if it capitalized on its chances.
"If we are playing bad, it usually doesn't take us that long to figure something out and get it going and to keep it going," Sanders said. "It was just different because we would get something going and then something wrong would happen and we would have to stop and try again to get something going."
A missed jump shot by Jakeyla Miller with a little more than a minute to play gave New Hope a chance to win the game with 50.7 seconds to go. Holman called a timeout and instructed her team to try to hold the basketball with the game tied at 48. But it appeared South Jones' half-court trap rushed New Hope into a forced a pass with 20.8 seconds left that resulted in a turnover.
"We got in a hurry in a lot of possessions," Holman said. "I think that kind of haunted us. We weren't able to finish our defense with boxouts and we couldn't win the game with the free throws. I think their heart and their effort was absolutely unbelievable.
"It was the boxouts, the free throws. There at the end we didn't execute the possession before when we had the turnover. I probably should have called a timeout when I saw the panic on their face, but sometimes I trust them too much."
The turnover allowed Phillips to make the clinching basket. New Hope's defense stalled the 5-foot-9 junior guard's initial attempt to penetrate on the right side. But Phillips reacted when the defense shifted and worked into the lane for what proved to be the game-winner.
"We didn't rotate like we should have, but she hit a great shot," Holman said. "She put her head down and went in and knew if she didn't score they weren't going to score. You have to hand it to the kid. That was a big-time shot. I thought we were going to have enough to get her stopped. That is what will haunt me in my dreams: Should I have got back out of the press and made them walk the ball up the floor? But I felt like that is what got us here and that is what I was going to go with.
"I wish we could have stayed with her and got her stopped a little bit, but I felt Mercedes' defense was pretty good. I felt like we probably should have rotated over and maybe stopped her and gotten to her a little earlier, but the kid hit a great shot."
Holman, who is in her fifth season at her alma mater, knew it was going to be a battle, but she lamented a familiar, haunting story that involved the small things that did the Lady Trojans in. She also felt the team that stayed out of foul trouble would win the game. Sanders played only 23 minutes and fouled out with 1:55 to play. Baudoin finished with four fouls. South Jones (28-4) had three players with four fouls.
"It was huge," Holman said. "When D.J. goes out, we are not able to apply as much pressure up top, and I felt like we had them pinned. I felt like we were about to make them crack a little bit in the press. ... I don't really feel D.J. or Taylor were able to get in their rhythm. Being on the floor allows them to take those extra shots and get back into their rhythm."
The foul trouble coupled with a 7-for-16 effort (43.8 percent) from the free throw line and 15 turnovers (eight assists) proved to be too many hurdles for the Lady Trojans, even though they had a 33-27 rebounding edge, including a 16-10 advantage on the offensive boards.
"We weren't doing the little things like we were told to," Baudoin said.
Said Calmes, "We just didn't do the small things, and when we are able to do the small things we usually get where we want. We didn't execute the way we should have on defense or box out or defend in transition. We did a little bit, but we didn't do enough to get where we wanted to be."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.