March 8, 2014 11:01:14 PM
Coaches can tell when their teams need a jolt.
But the tricky thing about wake-up calls in the postseason is they can go either way. On one hand, they can knock a team off its intended course. On the other, a close ballgame can re-focus a team and help snap everything back into place.
The New Hope High School girls basketball team has benefited from two close games that have helped the team recapture its intensity and hunger to win a state championship.
New Hope (26-2) will put that focus to the test at 6:30 p.m. Monday when it takes on South Jones (27-4) in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A semifinals at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. The winner of that game will take on the winner of the Natchez-Canton game at 6:30 p.m. Friday back in Jackson.
New Hope coach Laura Lee Holman doesn't have a problem saying her team "needed" to be tested by Oxford in the Region 2 title game and by Center Hill in the opening round of the North State tournament. New Hope rallied from a 24-12 halftime deficit and used a 16-0 run to start the third quarter to find its legs against Oxford. It then turned up the intensity and pulled away from the Chargers in the fourth quarter.
Against Center Hill, New Hope trailed 27-26 in the second quarter before it found its spark and again found separation in the second half.
"I think the Oxford game was exactly what we needed," Holman said. "I think maybe there was a false sense of security there. We had a pretty good stretch of wins after the Brandon loss and then I think we got that false sense of security."
Holman tried to tell her team to be wary of Oxford, especially after 29- and 35-point victories in the regular season. But all her preaching fell on deaf ears, as Holman said the players showed up like they were ready to play Oxford, while Oxford arrived at Saltillo High with the attitude it was going to upset New Hope.
"I knew the week before they weren't ready," Holman said.
The Chargers had control for a half before the Lady Trojans' pressure defense was able to turn the tempo. Much like it has all season, New Hope's defense has fueled its offenses and given players like D.J. Sanders, Taylor Baudoin, Kaitlin Bradley, Moesha Calmes, and Mercedes Mattix a chance to get out and run and score in transition.
"I think the Oxford game helped us listen to our coach and follow the game plan better because when we didn't, we got to see how it worked when we did what we wanted to do and didn't do what she wanted," Sanders said after the game. "It was fortunate we got to do that because normally you don't win the game when you do that. Now we know that we have to do it, and we know the consequences if we don't do it."
Sanders also called the Center Hill game "probably the toughest game we have played all year." She said it helped the team play four tough quarters prior to advancing to the face Pearl and Canton in the next two games.
"The things that were their weaknesses were really our strengths," Sanders said. "The fact that they get tired quick -- we like to press, so we don't really get that tired. Boxing out -- we don't always box out -- but boxing out and rebounding and the transition game are things we like to do and things that they didn't like to do really helped us have such a big advantage."
The attention to detail, or "small things" as Holman likes to call them, helped New Hope roll past Pearl 66-42 behind 28 points by Sanders. Calmes had a team-high 21 points in a 71-40 victory against Canton that helped the team win the North State title. It was a satisfying victory after a loss to Jackson Lanier in overtime denied the team a chance to play in the state tournament.
"It hasn't been done in almost 30 years, so it is a big accomplishment for us to even be able to get there and do it," Calmes said. "But we want to win a state championship so we can say we have brought New Hope Lady Trojan basketball back."
Holman believes the Lady Trojans are prepared to tackle that task. After all, she watched as her players weathered injuries, foul trouble, cold shooting, and a fired up opponent to beat Oxford. She then rejoiced in her players' ability to come together and follow the game plan against Center Hill. After a week that included what could have been the best practice she has had in her time as coach at New Hope, Holman and the Lady Trojans are primed to take the next step. They will practice this afternoon at Humphrey Coliseum this afternoon before heading down to Jackson to spend the night. On Monday, Holman hopes to see the same team that followed the game plans against Pearl and Canton so well.
"Tuesday could have been one of the best practices I have ever had at New Hope," Holman said. "They came back in here Wednesday with the same, 'What do you want me to do?' mentality. From a coach's standpoint that is fun to see and to know they are focused and willing to do in practice the things I think it is going to take to beat South Jones. I feel like they are ready."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.