That was the sign seniors Ieysha Mays and Frederica Haywood hoisted after the John F. Kennedy Lady Hornets got past the Pine Grove Lady Panthers Thursday in the 1A Girls Basketball State Championship game here at the Mississippi Coliseum.
It was a test of wills between the two teams that resembled the north half title game from a couple of weeks ago when the pair dueled into double overtime before JFK pulled out the 45-40 victory.
This time it was for all the marbles and the Lady Hornets proved that their will was stronger the Lady Panthers as they clawed their way to a 39-34 victory to capture the gold ball for the first time in school history.
“Those young ladies had a moment without the coaches,” said a jubilant Linda Allen, JFK head coach. “To have Jarvis Malone and Frederica Haywood tell those girls to not quit and to tell them that this is our time made all the difference. We pulled too many tires and ran up hills to get to this point, and we were not going to be denied. I give all the glory to God. We take our hats off to Pine Grove, but this is our time.”
To finish undefeated is a huge accomplishment but Allen said that was never the goal.
“We didn’t start out looking for a perfect season,” Allen said. “We just wanted to be in the place where the gold ball was being housed and we knew it was housed in Jackson so we knew we had to work like dogs. We knew we would have to cry some times, get in each other face, love on each other and we did that and here we are holding the gold ball.”
The Lady Hornets were challenged extensively for the entire game on both ends of the court, but never stop coming, even with Mays in foul trouble.
“Frederica and Ieysha have been carrying us on the floor all year and when one is down the other one is there to pick us up,” Allen said. “Tonight that was Frederica. She knew that in order for us to win tonight she was going to have to put the team on her back and carry the load. They were double and triple teaming her but she still managed to make the right play at the right time.”
Haywood had a monster game, leading all scorers with 22 points and 13 rebounds.
With 2:49 remaining in the contest, JFK's Latina Jones made a free throw to tie the game at 32-32. Pine Grove’s Aliyah Atkins scored in the lane to put the Lady Panthers back on top 34-32, but once again Haywood came through and scored to knot up the contest at 34-34 with two minutes left.
Following a miss by Pine Grove, JFK rebounded and brought the ball up court. Allen called a timeout to set up the game plan for the team's next offensive attack. Out of the timeout, the Lady Hornets held the ball and ran the clock and with 35 seconds left Haywood received the ball in the post and scored to give JFK a 36-34 lead.
On Pine Grove’s next possession, JFK forced a bad shot and Mays rebounded, pushed the ball up court and found a streaking Malone for the layup and the foul. Malone connected on the freebie to give JFK a 39-34 lead and the victory.
“I think my team really pulled through tonight,” Haywood said. “It feels really good to do something that no one else has ever done in Bolivar County. This is my last game playing with my team and I’m a little emotional right now, but it feels great.”
Malone, who is the unquestioned leader of the team, said the night was perfect for a perfect finish.
“It was a great night for basketball,” Malone said. “Pine Grove’s fans and our fans were so loud and it was very exciting. Tonight our chemistry really showed and that was the reason we were able to stay focused. We love being together and that makes us closer and tonight you could see how we pulled together as one.”
The Lady Panthers’ defense gave the Lady Hornets fits to start the game as JFK struggled to hit outside shots and were unable to get the ball inside to Haywood and Mays.
Although JFK was off the mark on most of its shots to start the game, the team trailed Pine Grove just 9-8 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Lady Hornets managed to generate offense off second chance points, but the Lady Panthers maintained their advantage as they closed out the second quarter with a 5-2 run for a 21-15 lead at the break.
In the first half, the Lady Hornets only mustered 31.8 percent shooting from the floor on 7-of-21 shooting. They were 0-of-7 from the three-point line in the first half.
Pine Grove faired a little better shooting 42.1 percent from the floor on 8-of-19 shooting.
Business started to pick up as both teams traded baskets. The battle was between Pine Grove’s Aliyah Atkins and JFK’s Haywood and to start the third these two post players were at their best going right after one another. Atkins scored six of her team’s eight points in the quarter, and Haywood scored eight of her team’s 10 points as the quarter closed with Pine Grove on top 29-25.
Haywood and Atkins continued to battle in the fourth quarter, but the JFK defense picked up which ultimately was the difference as the Lady Hornets outscored the Lady Panthers 15-4 in that period.
Joining Haywood was Mays and Malone with six points each, Jones with three points and Alegsha Haywood with two points. The Lady Hornets compiled 12 steals in the game.
Atkins led Pine Grove with 20 points. Pine Grove finished its year at 29-8.