Columbus High guard Berniya Hardin tries to pass between a pair of Warren Central defenders. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch
February 25, 2018 12:28:11 AM
By DAVID MILLER
Special to The Dispatch
The Columbus High Lady Falcons' seven-week unbeaten run and 2018 season ended Friday with a 59-38 loss to Warren Central in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A playoffs.
The Lady Falcons' only lead was after the opening basket, and they trailed by double-digits for much of the game, which decided one of the eight spots for the 6A state tournament in Jackson.
Warren Central's height and length across the board helped the Lady Vikings register eight blocks and force more than 20 Columbus turnovers.
Columbus was held under 40 points for the first time since beating McNairy Central (Selmer, Tennessee) 36-35 in December and for just the third time all season.
Columbus (20-6) hadn't lost since a one-point loss to South Panola to open district play on Jan. 6.
"We had a great season, and I'm proud of our team for the heart and courage they showed this year," said Yvonne Hairston, Columbus High coach. "We just didn't play well, and we got beat."
Warren Central (22-8) was led by guard Aniya Sanders and forward Aniyah Fultz, who each scored 20 points. Fultz hit three first-half 3-pointers, including a pair in the second quarter that helped Warren Central stretch its lead from three to as many as 14.
Sanders scored roughly half of her points off Columbus High turnovers, including a pair in the fourth quarter that pushed the Lady Vikings' lead to 20 points.
Hairston said playing Warren Central for the first time magnified the challenges of defending perimeter shooting that they saw on film.
"We really didn't know they were that good of shooters from watching film," Hairston said. "But we just turned the ball over too much tonight. It was detrimental to us in what we were trying to do.
"Warren Central was just better than us tonight. We couldn't stop [Sanders] and we couldn't stop [Fultz]."
Columbus guard Berniya Hardin, who finished with three points and a trio of assists, said the team's primary plan on defense was to cut off entry passes to 6-foot-2 center Zaria Heard. Columbus limited Heard to just three points and a pair of missed free throws, but second-chance points and Sanders' ability to get to the basket were tough to contain.
"It was tough," Hardin said. "We didn't have the size to match up with their stronger, taller post players."
Columbus captured the juice late in the third quarter after dialing up its press defense and beating Warren Central on the offensive glass. The Lady Falcons cut an 11-point lead to six after put-backs by Hannah White and Deryona Smith. But, with under a minute left in the quarter, three straight Columbus turnovers led to Warren Central buckets and pushed the Lady Vikings' lead to 10 points.
The Lady Falcons had seven turnovers, missed the front-end of two one-and-ones and scored just seven points in the fourth quarter.
"We tried to keep up the energy (after the third quarter)," Hardin said. "We lost it a bit. It was hard at that point."
White led Columbus with 16 points and Smith had 11.
Columbus returns all of its players next season.
"Of course, we're feeling positive about having everyone back," Hairston said. "But it's so hard to look to tomorrow after a loss like that. But I'm sure we'll get back in here tomorrow, work hard and get some things done. Hopefully they've learned from it, and hopefully we'll get better."
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