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Lady Cougars bound for title game — Lawrence County girls beat up McComb to advance to 4A championship

Lawrence County’s Lady Cougars will play for the ultimate prize after beating McComb 53-38 Monday evening to advance to the 4A state title game.

A close game at the halfway point came unspooled in favor of the Lady Cougars in the second half, as hard defense and patient, ball-control offense allowed the Lawrence County girls to pour digits onto the scoreboard while McComb slipped further and further behind. Lawrence County began the fourth quarter with a 14-point advantage and held a double-digit lead until the final buzzer.

“We play hard,” said Lady Cougars senior Camryn Davis. “We just penetrated on offense and moved the ball to find the open man.”

The open man was everywhere for the Lady Cougars in a back-breaking third quarter, as awareness in the passing game allowed them to open up holes in the McComb defense for quick scores and a 17-7 advantage from which the Lady Tigers were unable to recover.

The Lawrence County girls totaled a smooth nine assists on the night as they fed scoring opportunities down low and fired cross-court passes to open shooters. Lady Cougars junior Kyunna Thomas was one of those shooters, hitting consecutive three-pointers late in the first half and another in the game-changing third.

“Some I forced, some I didn’t force. The ones I didn’t force went in,” said Thomas, who was 3-of-8 from outside. “I had confidence in myself, and all I was thinking was, ‘make this shot.’”

Senior Jakya Dampier took over where Thomas left off, burying two big three-pointers early in the third to start the Lawrence County runaway.

“I’m just glad to be here. We’re ready to get this ring,” Dampier said.

The Lady Cougars will face Byhalia Thursday evening at 6 p.m. in the Mississippi Coliseum in the state championship game.

If they can keep playing the same kind of basketball they played against McComb, the Lawrence County girls should be in good shape. They peeled 34 rebounds off the glass against the Lady Tigers, and although their 17 turnovers were a little on the high side — several were committed late in the fourth when McComb took risks to stay alive — their 15 steals were like sugar in the water.

McComb led the first quarter 11-7, but Lawrence County came back to take a big second quarter 17-9, holding a 24-20 lead at halftime. The Lady Cougars won the game in a 17-7 third quarter, and kept on scoring through the Lady Tigers’ comeback attempt to take the final period 12-11.

Lady Cougars coach Vicki Rutland said patience was critical to Lawrence County’s victory. The team does not favor a fast-break offense, but instead likes to allow its experienced, senior-heavy roster to set up plays. The plan obviously frustrated the fast-moving Lady Tigers. 

“We knew we would have our hands full with McComb, so we just made up our minds to play defense and value the basketball,” Rutland said. “You have to value the basketball and make good decisions, and I think we did that tonight.”

Rutland said her girls were ready for Thursday night’s championship match, quoting a favorite old coach’s parable about luck lying at the intersection of hard work and opportunity.

“We get to dress for our hometown one more time this year, so we might as well win it,” she said. “We’ve come as far as we can — we’re prepared, we’ve worked hard to get here. Now all we need is a little luck.”

Senior Bailey Baylis said she’s ready to compete in her last ever game in a Lady Cougars uniform.

“I’m ready, ready to play one last game with my team and get this ring,” she said.

Davis led the Lady Cougars in scoring with 19 points, backed up strong by Thomas’s 15 points. Baylis threw in 10 points, and Dampier dropped in nine to complete Lawrence County scoring.

McComb seniors Ebony Gayden and Chardonay Williams led the Lady Tigers in scoring with 12 points each. Sophomore Alisha Tucker scored six points, while senior Dellesheonia Dixon scored five. Freshman Chanel Gayden rounded out McComb scoring with three points.