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Panthers bag division crown

MAGNOLIA – On Friday night, the Division 6-4A Tournament came toa close with its girls and boys championship finals in the SouthPike Coliseum. The Raymond boys had upset on their minds. And fornearly 30 minutes, the blue-and-gold clad Rangers played like theywere going to pull off a third upset in as many days.

The Rangers, coached by Wilbert Hamilton, had previously upsetNo. 2 seed South Pike and No. 3 seed Lawrence County.

Brookhaven’s Dexter Middleton had other things on his mind Hemade two crucial steals and baskets in the final 4 minutes,allowing the Panthers to come from behind and steal a 53-52 winfrom Raymond.

“I wanted to dunk it but I just laid it in,” said Middleton,recalling the winning basket. “I knew we could come back. I thinkwe underestimated Raymond. We were really up for McComb.”

The Panthers had beaten Raymond twice during the regular seasonand the Rangers were seeded seventh and last in the tourney.

With the win, Brookhaven claimed the Division 6-4A championship.The Panthers host the Pass Christian Pirates, the Division 8-4Arunners-up, at the James A. Sinclair Gymnasium Tuesday night, at 7p.m. Raymond goes on the road and takes on the Division 8-4Achampion, the St. Stanislaus Rock-A-Chaws the same night.

St. Stanislaus defeated Pass Christian 46-39 Friday night.

In the girls finals, the No. 2 seed South Pike Lady Eaglesrepeated as division champions with 63-40 thrashing of the No. 4seeded Terry Lady Bulldogs.

Brookhaven 53, Raymond 52

Brookhaven (25-5) looked as if they did not have their legsunder them. The Panthers, less than 24 hours earlier, had to comefrom behind to eliminate No. 1 seed McComb 50-49 Thursdaynight.

Raymond was looking to cap off its Cinderella run in thetournament with a win over former head coach Ronald Hines who hadspent several years at the Hinds County-based school prior to hiscoming to Brookhaven.

Hamilton’s ballclub carried a 16-10 lead into the second frame,behind 8 points by guard Carlos Taylor. The Rangers would cling toa 3-point lead, 24-21 at halftime and 37-34 entering the finalstanza.

“My guys were really up for this game,” said Hamilton.

Raymond had leads of six points on several occasions in thefinal 8 minutes. But the Panthers had other ideas and answered thethreat posed by the Rangers.

Middleton, a 6-foot-2 senior guard/forward, gave Brookhaven a45-43 lead with 3:05 left in the game on a steal and ensuingtwo-handed slam dunk.

The Rangers would take a 52-50 lead with less than a minute onthe clock. Panther guard Brandon Caston made a free throw with 53seconds left in the game to cut Brookhaven’s deficit to 1 point,52-51.

After several possession exchanges by both teams, Raymondappeared to have the game well in hand inside of 10 seconds.

The Panthers went to a trapping half-court defense and Middletonpicked off a Ranger pass out of a double-team. He laid the ballcalmly in the basket with just over one second left on the clock.By the time Raymond had inbounded the basketball, time had expiredand the Panthers had their first division championship in over 4years in the bag.

“Our defense came through for us tonight,” said a very happyCoach Hines following the game. “Dexter continues to step up hisgame.”

Middleton led the Panthers with 19 points, along with 5 reboundsand 4 steals. Caston followed with 11 points and 3 assists. JasperHall had 10 points, pulled down 7 rebounds and dished out 3assists. Lamar Hall had 4 rebounds and 4 steals. Phillip Tobiasgrabbed 6 rebounds.

Brookhaven scored 16 points off of Raymond’s 16 turnovers. ThePanthers scored 10 points off of their 9 offensive caroms andoutrebounded the Rangers 24-15 overall.

Caston and Middleton were named to the All-Division Team. AyanaTillman represented Brookhaven on the girls squad. Lawrence Countywas represented by Bryant Wells on the boys team and BrittanyPeyton and Rhonda Warner on the girls team.

South Pike 63, Terry 40

The Lady Eagles (25-3) were tied with the Lady Bulldogs at 10-10heading into the second period. South Pike went to their patentedfull-court pressure defense to outscore Terry 24-9 in the secondquarter and entertain a 34-19 lead at the intermission.

The Lady Eagles, coached by Marcus Flippin, got a game-high 16points from Tiffany Aych and 15 points from Yolanda Grady.

Jasmine Lindsey led Terry with 14 points.

“It feels pretty good to repeat as district champions,” saidFlippin, in his second-year at South Pike. He led the Lady Eaglesto the 4A state semifinals in his initial campaign, losing toeventual 4A girls state champion Provine.