Ole Brook girls think revenge

Published 6:00 am Thursday, February 28, 2008

JACKSON — They have a confident smile on their faces anddetermination in their hearts. Brookhaven’s Lady Panthers areanticipating a revenge match Tuesday with Indianola Gentry. Theshowdown will take place in the semifinals of the MHSAACellularsouth Class 4A State Basketball Tournament in theMississippi Coliseum.

Ole Brook head coach Freda Craft had just watched her LadyPanthers rally past Pontotoc in an overtime thriller. Thequarterfinals triumph assured her team of a rematch withGentry.

Last March, Gentry had turned back BHS 54-48 in the title test.A photo of several BHS players in tears after that defeat wasposted in the BHS locker room. A grim reminder of a what was aglorious season.

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“All year I’ve said, ‘Remember Gentry.'” said Craft. On severaloccasions this season, the long anticipated rematch seemed nearlyimpossible. There were deep valleys to negotiate and loftymountains to climb in a major rebuilding year.

Forest Hill, a familiar nemesis, beat Craft’s 31-6 team fourtimes this season. The Lady Rebels had a knack for bringing out theworst in the Lady Panthers.

Craft had seen three starting guards graduate. To say the least,their replacements were young and inexperienced. Gentry, bycomparison, has lost only one starter but she was a great one inSarita “Bug” Cooper who is starring for nationally-ranked DeltaState University as a freshman.

“I had a picture of us crying after the game,” said Craft. “Itwas just a reminder.”

Gentry is unbeaten again this year, led by center VeronicaWalker. The Lady Rams went 40-0 last season, winning the inauguralGrand Slam at Tupelo’s BancorpSouth Arena.

Twin Towers Swayze Black and Nikki Byrd have been the 1-2 punchfor BHS this season. The two SEC signees have carried much of theload through a major rebuilding season. They often bring the balldown the floor when opponents begin full-court, pressuredefense.

“We are out to redeem ourselves against Gentry,” said Black, asmooth 6-foot-3 forward who has signed with LSU. “We have somethingto prove.”

Byrd, at 6-2, had a big second half against Pontotoc. The OleMiss signee accounted for 18 points and 11 rebounds, plus lots ofphysical intimidation. Pontotoc senior Jordan Smithey, a 5-10 post,had her nose smashed and bloodied by Byrd’s elbow on a rebound andsat out much of the game.

Black had a solid game against Pontotoc, accounting for 12points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Byrd complimented herteammate.

“I know what to expect from Swayze because we’ve played togetherso long,” said Byrd. “She knows what I’m going to do. We are likeSiamese twins but we aren’t attached.”

Against Pontotoc, Byrd and Black had plenty of help. Juniorguard Kearra Collins provided 8 points, on 4 big field goals.Ashley Gayten, a 5-11 junior, came off the bench to grab 9 reboundsand score 7 points.

Whitley Shannon, a 6-foot senior scholar/athlete, contributed 5points in the early going when Pontotoc was on fire. Junior guardAmber Dickey helped run the show at point guard and sophomoreMale’ysia Burnett provided some big defense.

“Kearra really stepped up and shot the ball,” Byrd pointed out.”Ashley was a big surprise. She’s like a jack-in-the-box. We neverknow what to expect.”

Expectations will be high again Tuesday afternoon at 1o’clock.

Congratulations to Coach Dale Watts and his Brookhaven Academyboys. They won a fourth consecutive MPSA Class AA State Tournamenttitle last weekend at Grenada Kirk.

For sure the Cougars did it the hard way. They struggled atSouth State and were seeded No. 4 entering the state tourney.

Marshall, the North’s No. 1 seed, was BA’s first victim atGrenada. In the semifinals, they avenged three previous losses tohigh-powered Bowling Green. In the finals, BA knocked off NatchezTrinity for the title.

BA’s Lady Cougars, coached by Barry Gray, also enjoyed a greatyear. They won the District 4-AA and South State championships,placing third in the state tourney.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com