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Ladies of the house — BA girls win state title

When it was over, she wept.

Brookhaven Academy eighth-grader Anne Brantley Warren walked off the court cradling the state championship trophy in the crook of one arm, pinching together a pair of award plaques in her other hand. She met her daddy on the baseline, eased into his arms and laughed and sniffled, her face all red.

“I’ve been crying since it happened,” Warren said. “All the emotions kicked in at once. It’s amazing.”

Those emotions were hope, fear and relief, and they likely washed over Warren and the Lady Cougars in that order as they held off a strong last-minute comeback attempt from Marshall Academy Saturday afternoon to win the MAIS AA State Championship 51-40 and cap off a near-perfect season.

The Lady Cougars’ victory was certain, until it wasn’t. After leading comfortably for most of the game — and dominating the first half — the BA girls lost control late in the second half, letting the Lady Patriots loose on a 22-4 run that began with two minutes remaining in the third quarter and culminated in a 37-all tie with 3:17 to go in the game.

Those were scary moments for the home crowd — but not the team.

“We just told everybody to keep their composure,” said BA senior Cameron Watson. “It’s not over yet.”

The composure paid off. BA senior Kailyn Jordan and junior Jana Case got inside for a pair of layups to put the score in their favor, 43-40, and the critical moment that put the game away happened with 21 seconds to go.

A Lady Patriot was called for fouling Case on her way down the floor, and Marshall Academy’s coach spiked her clipboard onto the court in frustration for an automatic technical. Case stepped to the free throw line and sunk four straight shots to make the score 47-40, and she and Warren hit four more after desperation fouls in the final seconds.

“I knew I had to make those shots in order for us to win,” Case said. “I feel great. I’ve always wanted to win a championship and now I know what that feels like.”

The Lady Cougars leapt and hugged and cried together on the court after the final buzzer sounded, followed by closing ceremonies that saw worthy competitors from other tournament teams honored and the presentation of shining hardware, sprawling banners and photos aplenty for the home team girls.

“I feel overwhelmed,” said Jordan, now a second-generation Lady Cougar champion after her mother, Angie Jordan, helped BA take home trophies in the early 1980s.

The game was shaping up to be a snoozer early on. The Lady Cougars took the first quarter by force, harassing the Lady Patriots on defense to hold them scoreless in an 11-0 opening. Marshall’s girls began to stir in the second quarter, and the teams played each other to a 9-all tie that allowed BA to lead 20-9 at halftime.

Junior Macy Grace Smith and Warren buried three-pointers to start the third quarter and the Lady Cougars set off on a 10-3 run. But the Lady Patriots stayed in the game to trail 33-22 at the start of the fourth and made it a tense game in the final three minutes.

Marshall Academy’s critical possessions went sour, with a turnover with 1:09 remaining, a missed shot that went out of bounds with 46 seconds remaining and another miss with 42 seconds to go. This last was the Lady Patriots’ last real chance, leading to the clipboard spike that sent Case to the line for four points.

“I wasn’t really scared, just anxious and ready to win,” Smith said. “We just stayed together and focused on the game. It feels amazing — I don’t really know how it feels. I’m just so happy we won.”

Lady Cougars coach Jason Case equated the title victory with the Exodus.

“I told the girls before we went on the floor, all God expects out of us is to get to the Red Sea. If we can get there with our effort, and have faith, He’ll open up the sea and we’ll win this game,” he said. “And the girls got to the Red Sea, and God did something great for us.”

Jana Case led Lady Cougars’ scoring with 26 points. Smith and Warren followed with seven points each, and Jordan threw in six. Watson scored three points, and freshman Makayla Martin scored two.

Junior Kaylan Parks led the Lady Patriots with 13 points, while Jessica Demming followed with nine. Senior Alexis McGreger and junior Julia Nicholson scored eight each, and junior Erin Lomenic scored two.

The Lady Cougars finish the season as state champions on a 31-6 overall record. They were undefeated in district play. It’s the team’s first championship since 2005, and the first time the girls’ and boys’ teams won in the same season since 2005.

The Brookhaven Academy girls will next compete in the MAIS Overall Basketball Tournament — a free-for-all that pits schools of different size classifications against each another — Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. They will face either Kirk Academy or Parklane, with games being played at Mississippi College in Clinton.

“Now we have to focus on the overall,” Smith said. “We need to take this feeling into the tournament with us.”