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Lady Cougars headed to final 4 — Lawrence County girls’ physical play style gets it done at Jackson State

Lawrence County’s Lady Cougars punched their ticket to the Class 4A semifinals Thursday morning, beating Gentry 38-34 in a close game at Jackson State University.

The Lady Cougars survived on a low-scoring defensive battle in the third quarter, in which they managed eight points and surrendered only three. The teams exploded in a combined 29-point final period, but Lawrence County’s defensive work in the third put the team just out of the Lady Rams’ reach as time expired.

“We went into the locker room, had our pep talk, and came out and did our job,” said Lady Cougars junior Kyunna Thomas.

The Lady Cougars were not particularly impressive on the free throw line, going four of 10, and they caught 15 personal fouls. But they got into the fight and won the stat that often matters most — rebounds. The Lawrence County girls took 34 off the glass, allowing Gentry only 23. The Lady Cougars’ defense also came up with 13 steals, allowing only seven in the other direction.

Lawrence County opened the game going on a four-point run before the Lady Rams could find the net. In a defensive battle that saw both teams turn over the ball several times, the Lady Cougars managed to convert a few to lead 10-7 at the end of the first quarter.

The Lady Rams generated turnovers in the second to keep the game close and eventually tied it up, but the Lawrence County girls managed to break the tie late for a razor-thin 17-15 lead at halftime.

“We would get up, then get back down and have to fight our way back up,” Lawrence County sophomore Neziah Smith said.

The Lady Cougars turned up their defense in the third quarter to earn some separation on the scoreboard — the Lady Rams were held off the scoreboard for most of the period before finally get a basket to sink. They earned just three points and trailed Lawrence County 25-18 entering the fourth quarter.

The Lady Rams made a big effort in the fourth quarter, transforming turnovers into points on their way to outscoring Lawrence County 16-13. With two minutes to go, the Lady Cougars’ lead shrank to just three points, 35-32. But the Lawrence Count girls capitalized on late-game confusion to create just enough turnovers for the 38-34 victory.

“It was a great team effort, all the way down to our subs,” Lady Cougars coach Vicky Rutland said. “Without the full team effort, we wouldn’t have been able to win, so I’m proud of the team basketball we played.”

Senior Camryn Davis led the Lady Cougars with 14 points. Junior Jakiara Buckner hit eight points, while senior Bailey Baylis hit seven. Thomas scored six points, while Smith finished with three.

Junior Mercedes Hayes led Gentry in scoring with 10 points, while juniors Nihya Davis and Belize Reed, as well as sophomore Shacori Dawson, scored seven points apiece. Junior Khanijah White closed up Lady Rams’ scoring with three points.

With the victory, the Lady Cougars advance to the 4A state tournament’s final four. They’ll face the neighboring Lady Tigers of McComb Monday at 4 p.m.

Rutland said the Lawrence County faithful have been valuable in the tournament, and she hopes to see even more fans Monday afternoon.

“We’re thrilled to be playing in the state tournament, and it felt like we were playing at home,” she said.

Story by Dave Linton