Starkville High School's Donsha Lee (1) shoots over a defender Wednesday night in their game at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Photo by: Chris Todd/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
March 8, 2018 10:00:14 AM
JACKSON -- Starkville High School senior Kirsten Thompson blocked a shot to start a fast-break opportunity and then scored on the other end.
One possession later, Thompson rebounded a miss, fired a pass to Jariyah Covington, and took a pass and scored in the lane.
Those plays helped Starkville take over and pull away for a 60-51 victory against Pearl in the semifinals of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State tournament at Mississippi Coliseum.
Starkville (27-2) will face Murrah (30-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday for the state championship.
"All we want is a chance," Thompson said. "We are really good in transition. We aren't going to run the entire game, but we are going to take advantage of our opportunities."
Starkville saw a 10-point first half lead cut to 29-28 at halftime.
Coach Kristie Williams had a simple message at halftime: "Keep playing."
"Each game we have one big run," Starkville senior Tabreea Gandy said. "What you remember about our runs is that they start on the defensive end."
Pearl (30-3) missed eight of first 10 shots from the field. The Lady Pirates abandoned challenging Thompson underneath and went to a 3-point attack.
Pearl hit eight 3-pointers, including four in the second quarter.
After Pearl tied the contest 34, Starkville found a second gear on defense.
"We just had to pick up their 3-point shooters better. It was simple as that," Gandy said.
Starkville expanded its defense and wreaked havoc. After not committing a turnover in the second quarter, Pearl committed six during the decisive 12-0 run.
Jalisa Outlaw broke the tie with a 10-foot jumper in the lane. Thompson followed with her back-to-back baskets, and Gandy scored to push the lead to 42-34.
Pearl called two timeouts before back-to-back baskets by Outlaw and Gandy capped the run.
Pearl was held to one field goal in the final 5 minutes, 45 seconds of the third quarter.
"If we can get a couple of extra possessions, we can get the offense going," Outlaw said.
Gandy had five of Starkville's nine steals. Starkville forced 18 turnovers and scored 28 points off the takeaways.
"Just keep going and find a way," Williams said. "When you have seniors, you feel like you will find a way. The identity of this team is on the defensive end. We need to have balanced scoring and we need to be stellar on the defensive end."
Starkville was just that, as Covington scored 19 points, Outlaw had 18, and Gandy added 11.
Starkville was 11 of 17 at the free-throw line, but it hit its final six in the last 2:15.
"You have to make plays in the fourth quarter to win in Jackson," Williams said. "I thought we did a great job of making some winning plays."
Starkville will play in the state championship game for a second-straight season. A year ago, Olive Branch beat Starkville on the court, but the MHSAA later awarded Starkville the title because Olive Branch played an ineligible player.
"I remember crying after that game," Covington said. "We all remember being in that locker room after that game and the emotions we felt. We don't want to feel that way again. If we cry this time, it better be because it was the final game together for everybody and we are champions."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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