February 25, 2018 12:26:21 AM
By Amber Dodd
Special to The Dispatch
STARKVILLE -- Jariyah Covington had a team-high 22 points Friday night to lead the Starkville High School girls basketball team to a 66-54 victory against Clinton in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A tournament.
The victory helped Starkville (25-2) clinch its fourth-straight trip to Jackson. Starkville will face St. Martin (Ocean Springs) at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 3, at Jackson State. Mississippi State signee Daphane White, a 6-foot-5 senior center, leads St. Martin.
The winner of that game will advance to the Final Four at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
Last season, Olive Branch beat Starkville 57-54 in the MHSAA State championship game. In October, the MHSAA ruled Olive Branch had to vacate the state title after playing with an ineligible player. The decision paved the way for Starkville to be awarded the state championship.
On Friday, Starkville continued on its journey to another championship thanks to an abrasive defense the set tone in a 15-0 run. Flexibility on offense helped all five starters contribute in the opening quarter.
"That's our style of play," Starkville coach Kristie Williams said. "We try to score as easy and quickly as we can. We were able to do it early on. It's something we work hard to do."
The Lady Arrows didn't score until a contested layup by Kim McBride with 1 minute, 41 seconds left in the quarter. A late surge brought the score to 19-8 at the end of the quarter.
In the second quarter, Clinton's defense pinched the perimeter shooting to focus on the Lady Jackets' strength on the perimeter, but Starkville still led 31-17 at halftime.
Starkville kept working to fulfill their trip to the Coliseum while Clinton cut a 19-point deficit to seven in the third quarter, but a Starkville timeout set the stage for an 8-0 run that restored order.
McBride's fourth-quarter effort helped Clinton cut the deficit to 55-53 with 5:20 remaining.
"It clicked in everyone's head," Covington said. "We had to play better than what we were showing. We had to prove everyone wrong. It was either go hard or go home."
A steal and an and-one by Jalisa Outlaw provided the final spark Starkville needed to seal the deal. Tabreea Gandy added 11.
McBride led Clinton with a game-high 23.
Williams said she expected Covington to have the poise to lead her team at point guard.
"We expect her to guide the ship, so to speak, take big shots, and guide the defense," Williams said. "She's one of our senior leaders. She continues to fight through adversity. Tonight, she got in her own head a little bit, but she recovered. That's what you want from your leader."
Williams thinks the game's ups and downs will help her team's focus. She said it's time to notice how the little things are the biggest problems in the postseason.
"We needed a game like this," Williams said. "Every game matters. Every possession. Every turnover. It matters. Hopefully they'll take care of the ball more now."
Covington said Starkville is ready for another run to a title. She doesn't want her last trip to Jackson to leave her empty handed like previous years.
"I want to focus on finishing and bringing the gold ball back to Starkville." Covington said.
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