Willis’ 45 pushes PCA into semifinals

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 8, 2001

[02/08/01] MONROE, La. After a sloppy first half that left his team trailing 26-24 to Central (La.) School, Porters Chapel coach Mitchell Willis gave the Lady Eagles a pep talk that either inspired them or scared them.

E.J. Willis scored 28 of her career-high 45 points in the second half and PCA outscored Central 51-21 over the final 16 minutes to survive with a 75-47 win in the MPSA South State tournament.

“I went in and was just real nice to them and was very calm and nice to them,” Mitchell Willis, referring to his halftime speech, said with a laugh. “I just explained to them that it was now or never. If you lose this one, you go home.”

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Brady Willis had 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for PCA, while Kayla Barnette grabbed six rebounds and Jessica Lord had eight.

The Lady Eagles will face Conference 6-A champion Riverdale (24-2) in Friday’s semifinals at 1 p.m. The win also assured PCA of a spot in the Academy-A state tournament.

For a time, however, it looked as if the Lady Eagles might get sent packing by the No. 4 seed from Conference 6-A.

PCA (23-9) shot just 30 percent from the floor in the first half and couldn’t put together a run against Central (17-12). The teams traded baskets throughout the half, and Central’s Jennifer Darrick hit a layup at the buzzer to give Central a 26-24 lead at the break.

In the locker room at halftime, away from prying ears, Mitchell Willis ripped into his team.

“Oh my … I’m not even going to repeat that,” said E.J. Willis, who also had 13 rebounds and four assists, and was just 1-for-2 from 3-point range. “It was enough to make us play ball, let’s just put it that way.”

The Lady Eagles came out for the third quarter like they had gotten the message loud and clear.

E.J. Willis scored 14 points in the third quarter as PCA opened the period with a 9-2 run, taking a 33-28 lead with 3:59 to play.

“My girl that I had on (Willis) just ran out,” Central coach Ginger Snead said. “She’s an awesome ballplayer. Very calm, very smooth.”

The Lady Eagles led by as many as 15 points, 45-30, before Central made one last charge.

The Lady Pioneers cut the deficit to 10 points, 47-37, early in the fourth, but PCA’s Barnette hit a 3-pointer her only basket of the game with about 61/2 minutes to play to push it back to 50-37 and PCA pulled away from there.

“That was the nail in the coffin,” E.J. Willis said.

Dena Pell led Central with 19 points, seven rebounds and three steals, Emily Holman added 16 points and Darrick had six points and seven rebounds.