Girls’ team dispatches Ridgeland, readies for region tourney

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Brookhaven High girls’ basketball team is a program that has built a culture of championship expectations.

Yes, the school is still looking for it’s first state title in the sport since 1984, but over the last eight seasons under head coach Preston Wilson, the team has been in the absolute thick of the 5A title hunt on a regular basis.

In 2020, the Panthers lost 55-51 to Columbus in the 5A title game. In 2021, they lost to Holmes County Central in the 5A semifinals and last season they again made the semifinals before losing 43-40 to Columbus.

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On Tuesday in Sinclair Gymnasium, the program honored the senior class of Raven Smith, Alexis Kelly, Makyia Stallings, Nicole Gamble, Angel “Cookie” Wilkinson and Leah Wilcher after getting a 58-49 win over Ridgeland to close out the regular season.

The focus now turns to the Region 5-5A Tournament next week at West Jones High School.

The host school is the top seed in the region and boasts a 23-2 record that includes two wins over BHS.

Wilson won’t let his team overlook Florence in the semifinals at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, but he and his squad know that a third meeting with West Jones looms as a potential championship matchup on Friday.

Playing one of the best 5A teams in the state on the road is the type of game that can better prepare the Panthers (23-3) for another deep playoff run.

“West Jones plays so hard and stays within what they do so well,” said Wilson. “We’ve got to be more mindful of the mental part of the game.”

WJ won the first meeting between the schools 53-33 in Soso and then came to BHS on Jan. 26 and took a 60-43 win back to Jones County. The only two losses this season for the Mustangs are to 6A Meridian and 6A Hancock County — a team coached by West Lincoln alum Jamie Sisco.

Other than West Jones, 6A Germantown (26-2) is the only other team to beat Brookhaven High this season.

There were times on Tuesday against Ridgeland (12-12) where BHS lacked that mental edge that Wilson is looking for.

The Panthers led 14-12 after the first quarter and then 33-19 at halftime.

That advantage would grow to near 20 points in the second half and then a run of mistakes by the home team would allow Ridgeland to chip away at that total.

“There are times where we’ll have a lead and then get lackadaisical,” said Wilson. “You can’t have wasted trips with turnovers against a team like West Jones because they’ll make you pay.”

Wilkinson scored a game high 26 points in the win for Brookhaven. The reigning Daily Leader All-Area MVP, Wilkinson says East Mississippi CC and Copiah-Lincoln are the two schools she’s planning on picking between when it comes time to sign a letter-of-intent.

Junior forward Aliyah Watkins scored 14 points off the bench for BHS against Ridgeland. Kelly scored six points, Smith added five points, Gamble scored four points and Wilcher added three points to round out the scoring for the Panthers.