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By DANNY P. SMITH
The result of Tuesday night's Class 6A, Region 2 Tournament opener for the Starkville Yellowjackets was similar to so many games previously this season.
Despite a hard-fought effort that had Starkville leading the top-seeded Columbus Lady Falcons in the second half and within one point of the lead on two occasions in the fourth quarter, the Lady Jackets lost a 59-56 decision at the Beehive.
"It's been the same story all year long," Starkville girls coach Kristie Williams said. "We ask them to fight for four quarters and 32 minutes. (Tuesday) we were able to put together quality minutes, but at the same time, we didn't finish that complete game that we expected to. The hustle was there and they really wanted it bad, especially for our seniors, but we just came up short."
The Lady Jackets finished with an overall record 5-18, but Williams said the mark is deceiving with so many close losses.
"You look at our record you'd say the Lady Jackets played horribly this year, but you look at some of those games and we only came up short a few points," Williams said.
The two teams came out in the first quarter and combined for 13 points, but Starkville had an 8-5 lead with baskets by Chelsey Johnson-Weaver, Brittany Brown and Rebecca Myles and a free throw by Jacqueline Fair.
Columbus got hot at the beginning of the second quarter and went on a 10-0 run to gain a 15-8 advantage.
"We both knew the pressure behind this game," Williams said. "It was do or die and winner goes home. I think we both came out with a lot of jitters."
The Lady Jackets came back to cut the margin to 21-20 at halftime and a score by Myles put the home team on top 22-21 with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter.
Kamerons Corrothers sank a bucket seconds later to give the Lady Falcons the lead again and they would not give it back up.
Even though the Columbus advantage grew to as many as eight points at 32-24 at the 2-minute mark of the third quarter, Starkville kept battling back and used a press that began to disrupt things for the visitors.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady Jackets got to within one point twice at 48-47 and 49-48, but couldn't quite to enough to wrestle the lead back from the Lady Falcons.
"We have a lot of girls with some fight in them," Williams said. "Getting them into a press was something we had been working on the past couple of days. We were stressing that and knew it would be a key part of what we do. We tried to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but unfortunately we didn't pick the lucky one.
"There was a key basket down the stretch that we gave up and free throws that we missed. You can go back to any one of those things. You get those back and maybe the turnout would have been different."
Columbus was led in the final 4 minutes by Kiandria Patterson and Maggie Proffitt, who combined for 13 points.
Patterson, who scored 30 points for the Lady Falcons, said Starkville made it very difficult for them to get into a rhythm offensively.
"It was extremely tough because we knew they were ready for us," Patterson said. "They knew everything we were running and it was hard to play against a team that knew everything you were doing. We just had to find a way to put the ball in the hole."
Junior Brittany Brown was the leading scorer for the Lady Jackets with 16 points and will be one of the players Williams looks to for production next season.
Starkville seniors Myles, Johnson-Weaver, Whitney Taylor, Jonissa Buchanan, Courtney Moore and Shareda Brown were the seniors who played their final game of the season.
"We hate to lose our six seniors, but you look at the class coming back with my juniors, one sophomore and the younger ones anticipating trying out this spring, the future looks bright," Williams said.
Columbus coach Yvonne Hairston knew her squad was going to get Starkville's best shot and felt fortunate to come out on top.
"Nobody wants to lose and everybody comes in to win the ballgame," Hairston said. "Starkville has gutsy players and we knew they weren't going to give it to us. We are going to have to win it. You throw the record out of the way when it comes to district play because everybody comes to win."
The Lady Falcons advanced to meet the Tupelo Lady Golden Wave, a 49-42 winner against South Panola, in Friday's final.