South State title secured, Brookhaven Academy turns attention to MAIS 5A Tourney

Published 12:42 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — The Brookhaven Academy girls’ basketball team has been checking boxes all season long.

The team is currently 36-3 overall, dominated its district opponents without suffering a loss and won three games by wide margins last week to captured the MAIS 5A South State Tournament at Central Hinds Academy.

The attention and focus now turns to the ultimate prize, the MAIS 5A State Tournament. 

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Yes, the MAIS plays a tournament of champions called the Overall State Tournament after this, but winning your classification tournament is what players and coaches dream about the most. Winning Overall State is more like lagniappe.

Cougar fans wearing blue will make the 150 mile trip to Greenwood this week as Pillow Academy will host the event in their newly remodeled gym.

The opening round opponent for BA is Heritage Academy, the team that finished as the no. 4 seed last week in the MAIS 5A North State Tournament hosted by Simpson Academy.

Simpson captured first place in 5A North State by beating Pillow in the championship game. Leake Academy defeated Heritage in the consolation game.

Tipoff between BA and Heritage is set for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Heritage, a school located in Columbus, isn’t a stranger to Brookhaven Academy head coach Ron Kessler.

The schools met on Dec. 20 in a tournament hosted by Lamar School of Meridian.

BA won the first matchup by a 61-20 final score.

A win over Heritage would put BA playing in the second semifinal on Friday at 2:15 p.m. against Pillow Academy. The championship game on Saturday is scheduled for 2:15 p.m.

Brookhaven Academy got a measure of revenge in the 5A South State title game by defeating Copiah Academy 33-24.

CA was the last team to beat the Cougars, a 44-36 win for Copiah on January 7 in Gallman.

Since then, Brookhaven Academy and coach Ron Kessler have won 14 games in a row.

Copiah made a run in the early part of the third quarter to trim the Brookhaven Academy lead, but the Cougars controlled the tempo and kept CA from getting clean looks from deep late in the game to cement the win.

Senior forward Emma Gates scored eight points and grabbed 11 rebounds to pace BA in the win over Copiah. Sophomore point guard Ella Smith scored eight points and junior wing Reagan Fortenberry added seven points.

In a dominating, 47-27 win over Madison-St. Joe in the semifinals, it was senior forward Lillie Gates who did the most damage. Gates scored 26 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and blocked six shots. Fortenberry added 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

The Cougars cruised past Cathedral School in the opening round of 5A South State by a 49-14 final score. BA led 40-7 at halftime and was led by 15 points from Lillie Gates, 10 points from Fortenberry and eight points from Smith.

Lillie Gates, Emma Gates, Smith and Fortenberry were all named to the South State All-Tournament team.

Pillow and Leake are the only two teams in the tournament that BA hasn’t faced this season. They split the season series with Simpson, losing 57-52 at home and then winning 60-35 in Mendenhall.

Leake Academy (32-5) is the defending 5A state champs and have still been one of the top teams in the state despite playing much of the season without their leading scorer, Miriam Prince.

Pillow defeated Leake 55-43 in the 5A North State semifinals at Simpson. That was the fourth meeting of the season between the schools with each having now won twice.

Simpson Academy (30-4) comes in on a similar hot streak as BA, having won 15 games in a row.

Pillow Academy is coached by Durwin Carpenter, who’s won over 1,000 career games and multiple state championships during his long tenure at the school.

In tournament action played on Tuesday, the Leake Academy girls’ team eliminated Copiah Academy by a 48-35 final score and the Pillow Academy girls eliminated Madison-St. Joe with a 48-39 win.