February 14, 2017 10:54:30 PM
BY CALEB GARNER
Special to The Dispatch
As they say, the third time is a charm.
That saying rang true on Tuesday night in the semifinal round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A, Region 2 tournament.
New Hope earned a spot in the Class 5A playoffs by beating Oxford 51-48 in another thrilling, down-to-the-wire contest between the rivals in the opening night of the tournament.
New Hope (16-10) will face West Point (17-5) at 6 Friday night for the region tournament title. Win or lose there, the Lady Trojans will host in the playoffs.
Head coach Chad Brown noted his team's persistence despite the setbacks and injuries.
"We battled through those setbacks," Brown said. "We have had some injuries and fought through it. They fought through this basketball game. We didn't play our best, but kept fighting."
The Lady Trojans relied on the sharp shooting of junior Alex Melton and a double-double effort by senior Lanoria Abrams, in addition to a 17-0 run in the second quarter.
Brown said that Abrams did not want to end her senior season without playing in the region title game. She now gets to check that off her list after tallying 18 points and hauling in 14 rebounds in the victory.
"(Playing for a region championship) means a lot because it is my last year and we have not been able to do that in a while," Abrams said.
Abrams' impact under the basket for New Hope was crucial down the stretch. Brown said he likes the tenacity that she plays with, despite not having a height advantage.
"Lanoria is relentless," Brown said. "She is probably the best athlete I have ever coached. When she puts her mind to it, she is hard to stop. She is relentless under the basket. She is not the biggest player, but she goes after it every time. She has been big for us this year."
While Abrams was a force in the post, Melton stayed in "her spot," as her coach put it, in the corners beyond the three-point line and waited for her chance to knock down shots. She buried a team-high five treys in her 17-point output.
"(The corner) is her spot," Brown said. "Most of the time when she makes that first shot, she starts feeling good about herself and gets that wrist going. She can light it up."
Melton was confident that the Chargers (10-18) would not have the last laugh in the third meeting between the two teams.
"It was a tough win" Melton said. "We worked hard in practice and we knew (Oxford) couldn't beat us a third time. We just had to come out, play our game and be strong. It paid off."
n In the boys' game, the third-seeded Trojans topped Saltillo 70-55 behind a 23-point effort from junior forward Tyler Stevenson. New Hope head coach Drew McBrayer said that his team's size advantage garnered the Tigers' attention, allowing Stevenson and senior Terryonte Thomas to shoot the ball.
"When you have a 7-footer on the inside (Andrew Junkin), a 6-foot-5 kid (JaQuante Bell) and a 6-7 kid (Stevenson) that can go inside or out, the size makes a big difference," McBrayer said. "A lot of teams will try to pack it in on us and so we have to knock down shots."
Thomas added 14 points, while junior Anthony Roland chipped in 10 points off the bench.
New Hope will take on top-seeded Oxford (22-6) in the region championship game on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Similar to the girls situation, New Hope lost Oxford twice in the regular season, each time in last-second fashion.
Saltillo (18-11) will battle West Point (6-21) in the third-place game on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. at New Hope.
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