Lady Panthers in state 4A test

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 5, 2007

Brimming with confidence, the Brookhaven Lady Panthers tackletheir first opponent in the Class 4A State Basketball TournamentSaturday night in Jackson’s Mississippi Coliseum. They face theJackson Callaway Lady Chargers in a 6:30 semifinals tipoff.

Ole Brook (31-5) has gone undefeated through the Division 6-4Aand South State Tournaments. For the Lady Panthers, their latestaccomplishment was a 55-51 win over Wayne County in the South Statechampionship game last Saturday night in Sinclair Gymnasium. WayneCounty is the defending state champion.

Callaway (28-8) is a familiar foe for the Lady Panthers. Theylost a 66-59 overtime decision to Callaway in the Ole BrookClassic, Nov. 11.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Ole Brook coach Freda Craft said she remembers the game quitewell. “We led most of the game and then we gave up at the end. Wehave to be more consistent and have fewer turnovers. We must stayunder control. Last time their full-court press hurt us.”

The main mover for Callaway is 5-10 junior center Kiana James, atrue force in the paint. In their previous meeting, James collecteda game-high 28 points and 21 rebounds against Brook. Guard JessicaCollins chipped in 16 points.

BHS senior guard Kayla Harris said she feels confident aboutBrook’s chances of beating Callaway in a revenge match, and winningthe state tournament. “I feel real good. We are going to go upthere and kick some butts and win it all.”

Harris, along with point guard Monte’ Wilson and second guardJermecia Jones are seniors in the starting lineup. They arecomplimented by the Twin Towers of 6-2 Nikki Byrd and 6-1 SwayzeBlack, both juniors. Whitley Shannon, a 6-foot junior post, alsodraws starting duty.

“I’ve worked hard on my shooting,” said Harris. “If I miss,Nikki or Swayze will grab the rebound.”

Byrd poured in 26 points and snared 13 rebounds in lastSaturday’s win over Wayne County. She and Black average in doublefigures.

“We have good chemistry on this team and we are family,” saidByrd. “Coach instills teamwork in us. We have fun together,too.”

Craft said she plans for the team to arrive early Saturday sothey can become acquainted with shooting the basketball in thespacious confines of the Mississippi Coliseum. Callaway, the No. 2team out of the North, whipped South No. 3 Pass Christian 56-39Tuesday in the opening round.

“If our kids played (basketball) outside, then they would beused to open spaces.,” said Craft. “Our basketball goal was nailedto a tree,” when she was growing up in Hazlehurst.

Her Lady Panthers are familiar with the Coliseum and itsportable hardwood floor. Last year they lost to Indianola Gentry inthe opening round.

Craft is no newcomer to the state tournament. When she coachedClass 3A Hazlehurst last season, the Lady Indians won their firstgame and then lost in the semifinals to Choctaw Central.

Craft’s Hazlehurst team placed second in 1997, losing a 1-point,55-54 decision to Senatobia.

Panther Paws: 1984 was the last time Brookhavenwon a state basketball championship. The Lady Panthers finished40-0 under Coach Tommy Goodson and were ranked No. 3 in the nationby USA Today. They were led by 6-foot-3 All-American centerChana Perry who was selected National Player of the Year by ParadeMagazine.