Lady Vikes’ comeback falls short|[3/10/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 10, 2005

JACKSON – Warren Central needed a miracle.

Down 10 points in the Class 5A semifinals against Harrison Central with a minute to go and its best player fouled out, it was all the Lady Vikes had left.

Before long, it was occurring before their very eyes. A 3-pointer. A turnover and a basket. A missed shot and another basket. And, finally, a steal and a chance to tie. What had seemed improbable only moments before was now within the Lady Vikes’ grasp.

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Then, in an instant, it was gone.

An errant pass and a steal by Harrison Central’s Arlanderia Whitlock sealed WC’s fate. She was fouled, hit both free throws to make it a two-possession game, and allowed the Red Rebelettes to escape a historic collapse and advance to the Class 5A championship game with a 56-50 victory.

“We’re down 19 and we could have just folded the tents and said it’s over,” said WC coach Donny Fuller, whose team actually trailed by 20 points midway through the third quarter. “They wouldn’t quit. There’s no quit in this group … That’s what you expect out of seven seniors.”

Carrie Dawson scored a game-high 27 points for Harrison Central (22-5), which advanced to the championship game against either Meridian or Tupelo. Shanea Cotton added 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks for the Red Rebelettes, and Whitlock scored 10.

Carla Latham scored 18 points and Cookie Johnson had 17 for Warren Central (25-9), which cut a 17-point halftime deficit to three in the final minute of the game.

Brittany Banks hit a 3-pointer and a layup during a stunning 7-0 WC run that cut it to 53-50 with 20.1 seconds to play. Banks then came up with a steal that gave the Lady Vikes a chance to tie, but tried a bounce pass that was intercepted by Harrison Central’s Whitlock at the top of the key.

Whitlock then hit the ensuing free throws with 11.7 seconds to go to seal it.

“I think (Banks) saw the opening and she made the pass, and the girl broke between her. That’s basketball,” Fuller said. “She was trying to find somebody open to shoot a three, because we told them we had to have a three there.”

That the Lady Vikes were even in a position to think about tying the game at the end was a miracle in itself.

WC was an atrocious 3-for-18 from the floor in the first half and went nearly 11 minutes without a field goal. After Johnson’s 3-pointer put WC ahead two minutes into the game, the Lady Vikes’ only points came from the free throw line until Latham hit a layup with 2:50 to play in the second quarter.

By that time, Harrison Central had a double-digit lead and was well on its way to a 32-15 halftime advantage.

“We were kind of off,” Johnson said. “We tensed up a little bit.”

Warren Central was also hurt by the inside game in the first half. Twenty-six of Harrison Central’s 32 points came on layups, while the other six were scored at the foul line.

Cotton, a 6-foot-3 post player, scored only four points in the first half for the Red Rebelettes, but Dawson kept breaking free in transition and scored 20 points in the first two quarters.

“We didn’t do a very good job of getting back,” Fuller said. “They didn’t beat us with cheap layups against our press. They were beating us on the fast break. They beat us in transition in the first half.”

Warren Central didn’t show any signs of life until Cotton picked up her fourth foul with 4:23 to play in the third quarter. Harrison Central led 38-18 at the time, but with Cotton’s intimidating presence in the post gone, the Lady Vikes were able to turn up the heat.

Warren Central went on a 10-2 run to cut it to 40-28 with a minute to play and trailed 44-32 heading into the fourth quarter.

“They were able to start attacking the basketball,” Harrison Central coach Ricky Stone said. “Then when (Cotton) came back, she couldn’t be aggressive. That takes a weapon away from us.”

The Lady Vikes hit a wall whenever they got within 10 points, however. They got that close a half-dozen times only to see the Red Rebelettes hold them at bay. And when Cookie Johnson fouled out with 2:37 to play in the game, it seemed as if WC’s season was coming to a very disappointing end.

Just as things looked darkest, though, another senior picked the Lady Vikes up.

Banks hit a 3-pointer with 59.7 seconds to play to cut it to 53-46 and finally break the 10-point barrier Harrison Central had preserved for most of the second half.

A tie up on Harrison Central’s end resulted in a jump ball that was awarded to the Lady Vikes, and Latham cashed in the opportunity with a layup. Whitlock was called for traveling on Harrison Central’s next trip up the floor and Banks hit a layup to make it 53-50.

“I thought things were about to change drastically,” Banks said.

Banks then stole the ball on the inbounds pass before turning it over to Whitlock. Any slim hopes the Lady Vikes still had were erased when Banks was called for traveling with 7.2 seconds to play.

Cotton was fouled and hit one of two free throws to make it 56-50 and finish the scoring.

“We broke down and they got it to three,” Dawson said. “We were scared, but then (Whitlock) made that steal and then she hit those two big free throws.

“When she made both, I knew we were OK.”