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Season ends for Lady Panthers vs. West Jones

LAUREL — As the Lady Panthers suffered their 5A state playoff loss to West Jones Friday night 59-38, four seniors played their last game in a Brookhaven uniform.

Tears streamed down the faces of some of the players as family and friends greeted them outside the visitors’ locker room at West Jones High School.

It was an emotional moment for the athletes who played their last game and for a team that won 10 of their last 13 games to end the season.

The last game, however, was a crushing loss to 5A powerhouse West Jones, who won handidly 59-38.

The loss ends the 2016-17 season for the Lady Panthers at 14-14 overall and 6-0 in district play.

“I’m very proud of them. They could’ve easily turned it in during the early part of the year and then we ended the season winning 10 of our last 13 games,” Brookhaven head coach Preston Wilson said. “We played well. I’m proud of them. We still have some growing to do, but I see a bright future for them.”

The Lady Panthers started the game off hot, thanks to sophomore point guard Shania Harris. The Lawrence County transfer scored nine of the team’s first 11 points to take an 11-9 lead after the first quarter.

Things turned quickly after the fast start in the first quarter. West Jones would outscore the Lady Panthers 25-9 in the second quarter, taking a 34-20 lead into halftime.

Coming into the matchup, Wilson knew his team was undersized compared to the Lady Mustangs and they took advantage of their size in the second quarter.

“In the second quarter, they got a lot of easy baskets on second and third chance shots,” Wilson said. “They did a good job of crashing the boards and that really was the turning point of the game with them out-rebounding us.”

The Lady Panthers wouldn’t go away quietly, as their defense picked up the intensity in the third quarter and forced West Jones into shooting tough shots. The up-tempo style of play that Brookhaven likes to run kept them, in the quarter and cut the West Jones lead to 14 at the end of the third quarter.

The offense stalled for Brookhaven in the fourth quarter. The Lady Panthers were out-scored 14-6 in the final quarter, as the Lady Mustangs pulled away and won big 59-38.

Harris led the Lady Panthers in scoring with 13 points on the night. Sophomore center Tamia Stallings was next in scoring with right points and senior guard Asia Byrd contributed with seven points on the game.

Four players scored in double figures for West Jones, led by freshman guard Brikayla Gray with 14 points for the game.

As difficult of a loss this was for the Lady Panthers, it’s hard not to look to the future and see the young talent Brookhaven will return for next season.

Losing seniors Asia Byrd and Cheyenne Motley will be hard to replace from a leadership and on court perspective, but the returning players possibly make the Lady Panthers even better next season.

Harris and Stallings will be the key parts for the Lady Panthers to make a run during the 2017-18 season. Junior forward Alarria Townsend and junior guard Johnique James will be the senior leaders next season the younger players will look up to.

The sting of defeat hurts now, but that can all change next season.

“We got a group of seniors who finally experienced a successful year,” Wilson said. “We’re looing forward to building off of that. The young players that are hurting now, maybe they’ll remember this loss and not want to go through it again.”