February 11, 2009
Annie Brewer was finally able to step out of shadows.
When she did, the Neshoba Central High School girls basketball team did just enough to keep its season alive.
Brewer scored 11 of her game-high 15 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday night to help Neshoba Central rally for a 37-30 victory against New Hope in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A, Region 4 Tournament.
With the victory, Neshoba Central (14-8) will play top-seeded Noxubee County at 7 p.m. Thursday.
New Hope ends its season at 11-12.
Brewer, a junior forward, was effective down the stretch in part because New Hope freshman center Rachel Hollivay (12 points) fouled out with 2 minutes, 27 to play. Fittingly, Brewer drew the fifth foul on Hollivay, a 6-foot-4 center, who is at least 4-to-5 inches taller than her.
Without a shot blocker patrolling the middle of the lane, Brewer was able to post up. She received a pass in the lane and spun back to her right to convert a three-point play that tied the game at 28 with 1:30 to go.
Her two free throws with 49.5 seconds remaining gave the Lady Rockets the lead for good.
"Thank you Jesus," Brewer said when asked what she thought when Hollivay fouled out. "I knew we could do it with her in there, but she is a big part of their team. For us to get her out was a bigger advantage for our team."
Kendra Henderson''s steal and layup after Brewer''s free throws kicked the lead to 32-28.
The lead grew to 37-28 before senior Deshuni Sanders'' basket with 11.3 seconds left capped the scoring.
New Hope scored only two points the final 2:49.
"It was a chess match and they made plays at the end," New Hope coach Tim Vaughan said. "I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Rachel is out of the game. She is a force inside. She alters shots. I couldn''t have been more proud of our girls. Somebody had to lose, and this time it was us."
New Hope held the basketball to try to draw Neshoba Central out of a box-and-one defense that blanketed Kelli Petty (four points) and Hollivay. The Lady Rockets sandwiched Hollivay in the box and made it difficult for her to receive the ball when she made cuts.
Still, New Hope led 28-23 after Hollivay scored back-to-back layups with 2:49 remaining. Unfortunately, she was a little too aggressive trying to defend in the paint and was forced to watch on the bench as the Lady Trojans'' season ended at home.
"I thought they did an excellent job working the ball to their shooters once they got past halfcourt," Vaughan said. "They had three shooters (JK McWilliams, Leslie Morgan, and Henderson) I thought could hurt us from outside, plus the post player (Brewer)."
Neshoba Central coach Wayne Byrd, the father of New Hope High boys basketball coach Robert Byrd, knew his team had to keep the ball out of Petty''s and Hollivay''s hands if it was going to have a chance to win. He said the Lady Rockets were fortunate they were able to do just enough to pull it out.
"(Hollivay) was their ace in the hole, their trump card," said Byrd, who coached and was the athletic director at New Hope High. "We took it down in there in the first half, but we didn''t take it to her. At halftime, we talked about taking it to her and making some contact for the officials to call. Rachel helped us out on a few calls, but we still didn''t attack her like we would have to if we have to play her again."
Byrd complimented Brewer for staying focused in a game filled with ups and downs. He said Brewer is the team''s best ballplayer and passer and is a competitor who will do what it takes to help the team.
As for Vaughn, his team loses Sanders and Mysheal Standifer to graduation. The Lady Trojans also hope to receive a lift next season from the return of guard Tarran King (season-ending knee surgery).
"I thought (the Lady Trojans) did an excellent job," Vaughan said. "They just made plays and stepped up. That happens.
n New Hope 93, Neshoba Central 58 (B): New Hope coach Robert Byrd can breathe a sigh of relief.
Byrd was concerned a week without a game was going to hamper his team Tuesday night in its Class 4A, Region 4 Tournament opener.
There was no reason to be alarmed.
Jonathan Brandon had 23 points to lead a balanced scoring attack that helped the Trojans (21-4) advance to play host to West Lauderdale at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
The winner of that game will advance to play the winner of Thursday''s other game -- West Point vs. Noxubee County -- at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Victor Payne (18 points), Raymond Walters (14), and Quentin Shirley (13) also reached double figures as 11 Trojans scored in the rout.
"I like the way we came out. I wish we could have sustained it in the first half," Byrd said. "We look liked we let up and thought the game was over. I went in at halftime and had a little chat with them and they picked it up in the third quarter."
New Hope turned a 5-4 first-quarter lead into a 21-9 bulge in a flash. The lead crept to 38-17 on a layup by Shirley that circled the rim several times before falling.
But Neshoba Central scored the final eight points of the half to give it hope.
New Hope quickly built on the 13-point halftime lead, pushing it a 25 midway through the quarter. A 8-0 run to close the quarter, sparked by three layups by Shirley and a basket by Raymond Johnson off an assist from Matt Thrash, kicked it to 68-36.
The Trojans didn''t take their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter. Byrd went deep into his bench to maintain a high energy, which he hopes to see again Thursday night.
"I think we''re deep enough," Byrd said. "We play 10 to 12. If we have to we can play all 15. We''re deep enough that we have to have that intensity and effort. We have to get after them and pressure them all over the floor. That is our strength. We have a lot of quickness and a lot of guards who can score. That''s how we have to play."
Byrd was most pleased with his team''s energy, but he said the Trojans have to play more intelligently and not confuse fouling with aggressive or efficient basketball.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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