Lady Eagles win state opener

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Brady Willis of PCA knocks a pass intended for Kemper’s Megan Whitaker out of bounds. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[02/14/01] BRANDON Porters Chapel Academy started the Academy-A state tournament on Tuesday looking forward to a rematch with old playoff nemesis Delta.

The only problem was, that game isn’t until Thursday. The Lady Eagles avoided an upset in their first-round game against Kemper Academy, 56-44.

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Kemper rallied from a 21-point deficit with four minutes to play to get within six, but PCA’s E.J. Willis dribbled nearly two minutes off the clock and hit six free throws in the final 23 seconds.

Willis led PCA with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Kayla Barnette added nine points, Brady Willis scored eight and Brittany White and Jessica Lord each finished with seven. Jessica Harpole led Kemper with 14 and Jen Myers had 10 rebounds.

“Nobody ever really panicked. I’ll be honest with you though, we were looking down the road,” PCA coach Mitchell Willis said. “Nobody got up for this game. It’s going to be interesting Thursday night, because I think we’re going to get up for that game.”

PCA (25-10) was sluggish for most of the night, using several runs to build a double-digit lead, but didn’t pull away until midway through the second half.

Kemper (16-17) committed 13 turnovers in the third quarter and shot 36 percent for the game, allowing the Lady Eagles to build a 17-point lead, 40-23, after three quarters. PCA pushed it to 21, 50-29, when Kemper coach Russell Cruise subbed several of his young players.

He should have done it sooner.

Freshmen Leslie Beach and Kayla Mosely part of a junior high team that has won 32 straight each hit a 3-pointer and Harpole, a starter, hit two treys to trigger a 15-0 run that cut it to 50-44 with 1:01 to play.

Two turnovers by the rattled Lady Eagles helped continue the run, but E.J. Willis dribbled nearly 40 seconds off the clock before being fouled with 23 seconds left. She proceeded to hit six free throws down the stretch to put the Lady Rams away.

“I think if they’d have had another five minutes, they’d have won,” E.J. Willis said.

Cruise was as surprised as anybody by his team’s run.

“I was just like everybody else, just waiting to see what happens next,” Cruise said. “We needed more time … (W)e just got beat by the better team.”

After the harrowing finish, PCA can finally prepare for Delta, the team that knocked it out of the state tournament in the second round in 1998 and in the state title game in 1999.

The 1998 contest went to overtime after Delta scored the tying basket at the buzzer, and the next season Delta finished the game with a 16-0 run after PCA had gotten within two points with four minutes to play.

When asked about playing Delta again, a look of near-terror came over E.J. Willis’ face.

“I’m not nervous, but I know what Delta is capable of,” said Willis, who was a sophomore the last time the two teams met. “They’ve beaten us way more than I can handle.”

Another PCA senior who was around in 1999, Kala White, said it was a must-win game for the Lady Eagles in a deeper sense than just advancing to the semifinals of the state tournament.

“We lost to them twice, this is our last chance, and if we don’t beat them, there’s going to be a void there,” said White, who had two points, three rebounds and two steals against Kemper. “When I look back at my high school career, there will just be a void there.”

Mitchell Willis, in his first season as coach, isn’t intimidated by the past losses to Delta.

“We didn’t play with a lot of heart tonight … We’ll be a little different team on Thursday,” he said. “I don’t care who you are now. I want to beat you because you’re standing in our way.”

(B) MCCS 58, Tensas 41

Jim Harris had 19 points and Bill Harris had 14 to lead Mississippi County (Ark.) Christian past Tensas in the first round

Daniel Mascagni led Tensas with nine points.