March 3, 2009
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
JACKSON -- The sigh said it all.
Jameika Hoskins walked the length of the Aberdeen bench with her back turned as Raymond''s Valencia McFarland went to the free-throw line.
The Aberdeen junior standout took a breath, exhaled, and shook her head, not wanting to turn to face the clock and the prospect the Lady Bulldogs'' season was nearly over.
Seconds later, Aberdeen''s season ended Monday night in a 62-48 loss to No. 1 Raymond in the semifinals of the Class 3A Mississippi High School Activities Association Cellular South State Basketball Championships at Mississippi Coliseum.
Hoskins (team-high 19 points) lingered on the court as her teammates left to go to the dressing room. She took little solace in the fact that Aberdeen (28-8) had taken another step forward after suffering blowout losses to Raymond the past two years in the state tournament.
"I was thinking about everything we did wrong," Hoskins said. "Like coach (Cloyd Garth) said, we made a lot of little bitty mistakes that could have changed the game."
The glaring difference between the teams came on the free-throw line, where Aberdeen made 4 of 20 and Raymond (31-2) hit on 13 of 16.
The Lady Bulldogs have struggled recently with their free-throw shooting. They made 14 of 34 and still survived in a 56-53 victory against South Pike last week in their state tournament opener.
Aberdeen wasn''t as fortunate Monday night in a game Garth said was there for the taking.
"The Aberdeen Lady Bulldogs were the better team tonight," Garth said. "They are the best 3A team in the state, bar none. Last week, we missed 20 free throws and we emphasized to the girls all week, and all day (Monday), that you have to make free throws. We hit only 4 of 20 free throws, and some of them were front ends (of one-and-ones), and we blew a couple of easy layups.
"Free throws were the difference in the ballgame. The girls played excellent and stuck to the game plan. We just didn''t make free throws."
Garth said the Lady Bulldogs had a "terrible" free-throw shooting effort in their shootaround Monday morning at Millsaps College. He said he feared the shooting would carryover to the game, which proved to be the case.
"We were trying to get our free throws up to 65 or 70 percent," Garth said. "We just couldn''t get them to fall, and they weren''t falling in shootaround. ... Somehow they just hit a mental block with their free throws. If they make their free throws, they are sitting here as the winners, not the losers."
Hoskins, who was 1 of 8 from the free-throw line, agreed. After the disappointment of the loss dissipated nearly 30 minutes after the game, Hoskins said she was proud of the progress the Lady Bulldogs made this season. She said the loss will serve as even more motivation next season as the Lady Bulldogs seek a return trip to Jackson to claim a Class 3A title.
"We made a lot of progress. I think the first two years we were just happy to be here and nervous at the same time," Hoskins said. "This year, we said we have them for the third time and we have to step it up a little bit so we can beat them and get to the championship round. Next year we are going to have all of that nervousness out of us."
That journey will be bittersweet because Raymond, which will play for the state title Friday night, won''t be there. The Lady Rangers will move up to Class 4A next season.
Senior Valencia McFarland was a driving force behind the victory. The 5-foot-5 guard, who has verbally committed to play basketball at Ole Miss in the fall, scored 18 of her game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter. She also had six rebounds, five assists, and three key steals to prevent the upset.
Kanesha Sherrif had 11 points and Janairrika Bland had 10 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocked shots for the Lady Rangers, who shot 61.9 percent (13 of 21) in the second half.
"I think we finally calmed down and settled down and got the breaks we needed as far as steals and turnovers," Raymond coach Shay Jackson said. "We rely a lot on our defense as far as transition, and our defense is our offense sometimes."
Raymond''s defense was different than the past two seasons when it used a box-and-one on Hoskins and held her to four points in a 54-37 victory.
On Monday, Jackson said Sherrif, who guarded Hoskins last year, was not 100 percent because she was coming off an illness, which prevented her from going to that defense.
Hoskins said she was "shocked" the Lady Rangers didn''t use a box-and-one defense on her. As a result, she was able to attack the basket and spark the Lady Bulldogs and help them enter the fourth quarter trailing 40-38.
Raymond used some box-and-one and a 1-2-2 zone defense in favor of player-to-player defense down the stretch, which enabled it to slow Aberdeen and rebound from a "flat" start, according to Jackson.
Jackson said she saw a "tired" Aberdeen team in that game and one that didn''t attack. On Monday, the Lady Bulldogs attacked as a team and were tied at 42 with six minutes to go.
"Their players other than No. 3 (Hoskins) they stepped up tonight," Jackson said. "The point guard shot some huge threes at the end and we were like, ''Where did that come from?'' They were ready to play. When you play someone for the third time, it is hard. We knew this game was going to be tough. You''re sitting here in the semifinals with a chance to go to the state championship, you''re going to lay it all on the line. Credit to Aberdeen, this was a whole different team than we have seen."
That''s when McFarland took over. The Lady Rangers pulled away thanks to a 22-10 final quarter that helped them earn their 25th consecutive victory.
"We knew McFarland''s points were basically going to come from snow birds, rebounds kicking out to her," Garth said. "The first half we kept her in check. They put pressure on her and she couldn''t get open. Midway through the fourth quarter we had a couple of mental breakdowns and they lost her and she did exactly what we knew she would do. She would streak down the floor and they would hit her. Most of her points came on kickouts and layups at the other end."
Senior Sheraine Davis added 16 points, including two key 3-pointers, nine rebounds, and three assists to complement Hoskins. Dayana McGee added eight points and five rebounds.
Only two other Aberdeen players scored.
"I think we should have beat them," Davis said. "The free throws killed us. We played a great game except for the free throws."
Said Hoskins, "We played hard in the first half. We played hard in the second half, but we had mistakes in there. Maybe if we had made our free throws we could have won it. Next year is going to be much better for us. We''re going to come hard and we''re going to work hard in the offseason."
n Winfield 11, South Lamar 4: Eric Adams and Russ Cole went 2-for-4, but the Stallions committed five errors in the loss.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.