Time after time, the Starkville Lady Yellowjackets saw South Panola's Christa Brown and her teammates force turnovers and convert them into points during Friday night's Class 6A, Region 1 girls basketball game at the Starkville High School gymnasium.
When the Lady Tigers took a 38-37 lead on a basket by Brown to open the fourth quarter, it appeared the Lady Jackets may have lost control of the contest.
However, Starkville scored the next eight points to take a 45-38 lead and never trailed again. The Lady Jackets went on to a 51-46 victory.
After establishing a 26-19 advantage at halftime, Starkville was outscored by South Panola 17-11, but coach Kristie Williams was glad to see the Lady Jackets survive the run.
"We just fight through third quarters every game," Williams said. "We did well in the first half. We had that lead, then we come out in the second half and that intensity and desire doesn't always come. When that happens, you have to pull so deep to keep fighting.
"We hung on and it was a good game to hang on to."
With the win, Starkville improved its records to 5-9 overall and 1-1 in the division.
After the Lady Tigers took the brief fourth-quarter lead, Jacqueline Fair hit the first of two three-point field goals in the final 8 minutes to give the Lady Jackets a 40-38 advantage.
Brittany Brown had a bucket, Courtney Moore added a free throw and Rebecca Myles sank a pair from the stripe to increase the SHS margin to 45-38 with 4:52 left in the game.
Another basket by Christa Brown cut the difference to 45-40 at the 4:41 mark, but another key three-pointer by Fair put the Lady Jackets up 48-40 with 3:48 remaining.
"Jacqueline has been working hard in practice," Williams said. "We work on shooting every day and that's one of the elements of her game that we're trying to develop. She stepped up and when she gets in a rhythm like that, she can take big shots for us."
South Panola didn't go away quietly down the stretch as its defense continued to cause Starkville miscues and chipped its way back to make it a one-possession score at 51-48 with 12 seconds left.
The Lady Tigers missed a free throw, regained possession, but couldn't get a shot off before the final buzzer sounded. Whitney Taylor's defense was a key for the Lady Jackets in the final seconds.
After South Panola went on a 6-0 run to take an 8-3 lead with 5:47 remaining in the first quarter, Starkville battled its way back to tie the score at 15-15 by the end of the quarter.
A basket and free throw by Moore put the Lady Jackets on top 18-15 with 3:02 left in the second quarter and they stretched the margin to 26-19 by halftime.
Fair led Starkville with 11 points, while Myles also scored in double digits with 10 points. Chelsey Johnson-Weaver and Sheneka Townsel chipped in eight points each. Christa Brown had 20 points for the Lady Tigers.
Junior guard Brittany Brown of the Lady Jackets left the game with a knee injury and prior to the x-ray, but Williams said preliminary diagnosis by the trainer indicated a bad bruise.
Starkville travels to Grenada tonight in non-division action, then gets back into division play with a trip to Columbus Tuesday.
South Panola 39
The Tigers kept their game against the Jackets competitive for about 3 minutes.
For the other 37 minutes, the defending Class 6A state champions flexed its stingers.
Starkville (11-2, 2-0) had control after the first quarter, extended the margin to 38-19 at halftime and was up 56-29 after three quarters.
Coach Greg Carter said it was a good team effort from his Jackets, especially on the boards.
"We rebounded tonight better than we've rebounded all year as a team," Carter said. "We kept hitting the boards to get second, third and fourth opportunities. We shot the ball pretty well too, but when we did miss, we were able to get offensive rebounds. We rebounded really well on the defensive end because they didn't get very many offensive rebounds at all."
Tori Rice had 13 rebounds to lead SHS, while Gavin Ware and Jacoby Mobley had 16 points each. Newcomer James Evans scored eight points off the bench. He also had seven rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals.
"I'm proud of the way James played," Carter said. "He played hard and I mean really hard. He's exhausted right now. He's a hustle guy and he'll get hustle stats like rebounds and blocks."