Party like its 2018, Cougars reach championship final

Published 10:46 am Saturday, February 18, 2023

One more win and another blue-plated, championship trophy is coming back to Brookhaven.

The Brookhaven Academy girls’ basketball team will play for another state title trophy on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. when they take on Leake Academy in the championship game of the MAIS 5A State Tournament.

The game will take place at Pillow Academy in Greenwood and the Cougars will try to knock off the two-time defending state champs from Leake.

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BA put itself in the championship game with a dominating 59-49 win over the home team, Pillow Academy, on Friday afternoon in a packed gymnasium. The difference in the game was what Brookhaven Academy had inside the Gates twins.

The senior duo of Emma and Lillie Gates were difference makers as they controlled the paint, limited Pillow to one-shot possessions and made some baskets in close that helped BA build a lead in the second quarter. Both of the Gates sisters have signed to play college basketball next at Mississippi College.

The game was tied at 16-16 after the first quarter.

Pillow came out shooting the ball with confidence and hit 4-of-6 shots from the 3-point line in the first quarter.

The second quarter is when Brookhaven began to put some space between themselves and Pillow. Lillie Gates made a layup on the first play of the second quarter and that basket gave her team their first lead of the game — a lead that BA would never surrender.

The next trip resulted in a made 3-pointer from Anne Rylea Thurman, an 8th grade starting guard from BA.

Fouls were an issue for both teams throughout the game as BA coach Ron Kessler and Pillow coach Durwin Carpenter had to go to their benches early due to fouls on starters. Kessler got great minutes from junior guard

Mallory Martin and later from sophomore forward Ainsley Orr off the bench. Junior guard Avery Howard led Pillow with 17 points in the loss.

Lillie Gates led BA with 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Emma Gates scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots.

Sophomore point guard Ella Smith scored 12 points, junior wing Reagan Fortenberry scored eight points and Thurman chipped in five points. Orr scored six points and Martin scored one point to round out the BA scoring.

Leake Academy (34-5) made the championship game by beating Simpon Academy (31-5) 46-39 in the earlier semi-final on Friday. Simpson had beaten Leake three straight times in previous meetings this season.

BA is now 38-3 overall and will face Leake for the first time this season.

Leake eliminated Brookhaven last season in the first round of the state tournament by a 55-45 final score. The Cougars last won a state championship in girls’ basketball in 2018.