PCA wants redemption vs. No. 5 Lady Raiders

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 21, 2002

[02/21/02]All of the Porters Chapel Academy players have their reasons for wanting to beat Delta Academy in the second round of the Academy-A state tournament tonight, and few of them have anything to do with moving on to the state semifinals.

Over the last four years, one way or another, Delta has put an end to the Lady Eagles’ season in increasingly painful ways, making tonight’s showdown a David-vs.-Goliath grudge match.

Delta enters the game with a No. 5 ranking in the Associated Press poll, a 43-1 record and, as if that weren’t enough, home-court advantage. PCA is 22-11, and comes in with a chip on its shoulder.

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“If we could win this game, it would be better than a state championship for me, just because of the big deal everybody makes about them,” Mitchell Willis, PCA’s coach, said. “The girls go around school and get razzed about not being able to beat Delta, and I really want to win it for them.”

Delta coach Craig Dailey said the Lady Raiders have “probably just been lucky” during the streak, but at times it seems other forces have been at work:

In 1998, After E.J. Willis hit two free throws to give PCA a 40-38 lead with two seconds left, Delta’s Jennifer Stoner hit a layup at the buzzer to send the state tournament game into overtime. The Lady Raiders went on to win 51-49.

“That was one of the greatest comebacks in the history of our program,” Dailey said.

In the 1999 Academy-A championship game, PCA trailed by two points with 4:20 to play, but Delta finished the game with a 16-0 run to win its first state title, 61-43.

In 2000, the trip to Delta did the Lady Eagles in. They lost to Strider in the first round of the state tournament in Marks.

Last season, PCA committed four turnovers in the final two minutes and Delta scored its last nine points from the free-throw line to win 70-66 in the second round of the state tournament. The Lady Raiders went on to win their second state title in three years and finish second in the MPSA Overall Tournament.

“I’d do anything to win this game, and not just because it’s Delta,” K.K. Willis said, before pausing a moment and adding, “Yeah, just because it’s Delta.”

Willis has been forced to be a cheerleader for the last two encounters with Delta after suffering season-ending knee injuries the last two seasons. Her last on-court battle with the Lady Raiders was in the 1999 state title game, but she said watching last year’s game from the stands was tougher.

Now, with one last chance to beat PCA’s old nemesis, she’s determined not to waste it.

“I’m not scared. I’m going to do everything I can to win, but it just depends on the other players,” she said. “We all want to win really bad, just because of the fact that it’s Delta.”

For Kelly Ashley, a mistake against the Lady Raiders last season has haunted her ever since. With less than 5 seconds left and Delta leading 68-66, she was called for traveling as she started to shoot a wide-open jumper, ending PCA’s chances.

A year later, she’s determined not to let it happen again.

“A lot,” Ashley said when asked how much she thought about that play. “I’ll try not to make that mistake again.”

Delta has been on Kayla Barnette’s mind since Monday, when PCA advanced to tonight’s game with a 56-39 win over Wayne Academy, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less inspired by the past dealings between the teams.

“I’m really not nervous. I’ll probably be shaking (tonight), but I really think we can beat them,” Barnette said. “It’s killing me today. It’s all I can think about since the buzzer went off against Wayne.”

Barnette wasn’t the only one confident about PCA’s chances, despite the Lady Raiders’ status as a favorite to win another state title.

“I know how to beat them, but you just have to get the girls to do that,” Mitchell Willis said. “Everybody knows you have to stop (top scorers Lindsay Roy and Lauren Adams) and make the other three players score.”

Mitchell Willis added that he doesn’t believe in any “Delta curse” at least not yet.

“If I stay here a few more years it might be on me too,” he said with a laugh.