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Lady Panthers headed to 5A quarterfinals

The Brookhaven High Lady Panthers (26-3) are on to Poplarville and a date in the MHSAA 5A quarterfinals after a dominating 79-43 win over Natchez Friday night in Sinclair Gymnasium.

BHS next plays Saturday at 4 p.m. against Hattiesburg (22-7) in Marvin White Coliseum on the campus of Pearl River Community College.

The program that coach Preston Wilson has built on 443 E. Monticello Street is like a machine in its efficiency. The Lady Panthers want to play fast, physical and share the basketball.

Even with Ole Miss signee Snudda Collins on the bench early with two fouls, the Lady Panthers continued to feast on NHS turnovers as their defensive pressure was suffocating.

BHS led 26-10 after the first quarter and outscored Natchez 21-2 in the second quarter.

Natchez isn’t what they once were during their recent run of two straight 5A state titles. The Lady Bulldogs are trying to rebuild their program as their 11-14 record is a fourth straight losing season for the school.

The other end of the spectrum is a BHS team that is a 5A title contender this season after getting knocked out in the quarterfinals the previous two season — last year by West Jones and the previous season by Lafayette County.

The farthest a BHS team has reached in recent memory was a trip to the 4A championship game in 2007 and a loss in the 4A semifinals the following year for then coach Freda Craft.

Both of those years the Lady Panthers were bounced by an Indianola-Gentry team that had a dominant point guard named Sarita “Bug” Cooper.

With Craft sitting behind the Lady Panther’s bench Friday night and cheering for Ole Brook it was a BHS point guard in junior Ashanti Louis that was dictating the flow of the game.

Most teams can’t go with a zone defense against BHS as the senior trio of Collins, Ayanna McNairy and Lulu Cook shoot too well from deep — especially in Sinclair Gymnasium.

If the opponents go with a man-to-man defense, then they have to stop Louis from penetrating. When Louis muscles past her defender into the middle of the lane — there is usually a Lady Panther soon cutting in from the wing for a layup.

In limited minutes Friday Louis scored seven points, grabbed three rebounds, handed out four assists and made one steal.

McNairy led BHS with a team high 14 points and Cook added 10 points, five rebounds and four assists. Collins scored nine points and sophomore forward Denaejah Williams added eight points.

Sophomore Kyja Willis scored seven point and grabbed eight rebounds. Aniyah Cook, Angel Wilkinson, Jayla Henry and Alexis Kelly all scored five points apiece. Genesis Frazier rounded out the BHS scoring with four points.

The week layoff between games for BHS — they won the Region 5-5A title seven days before which earned them a first-round bye — had no effect on the Lady Panthers in any way.

“We got after it pretty good Monday and Tuesday to try and stay sharp,” said Wilson. “We came out tonight and took care of business early.”

Hattiesburg beat Forest Hill 54-39 Friday night. The Lady Tigers are a tradition rich program under coach Caronica DeBose Jackson as they were state champions in 2018.

They’re led by 6-foot-2 senior forward Melyia Grayson. Grayson is a Southern Miss signee and averages 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

The Lady Panthers and their junior floor general still sound hungry as the playoffs pair down to the final eight teams in the state.

“We can still rebound better,” said Louis. “We did a good job tonight, but we’ve got to keep doing it together as a team. We feed off each other’s energy and that’s a big part of who we are as a team.”

The winner of the BHS and Hattiesburg game will play the winner between Neshoba Central (11-10) and Vicksburg (19-10) on Tuesday, March 3 at 5:30 p.m.in the Mississippi Coliseum.