STARKVILLE — Columbus High School girls basketball coach Yvonne Hairston wasn”t surprised to see a senior pull down the game-securing rebound.
When Jessica Richardson came down with the rebound as the final buzzer sounded to give the Lady Falcons a 72-71 victory against Starkville High School, Hairston was happy to see the turn of events.
Hairston has come to expect Richardson to be in the right place at the right time.
“She”s one of the players, as a senior, that we look to in those situations,” Hairston said.
With a roster filled with younger players, Richardson knows she has the role as a leader and hopes to set an example with her play.
“I try to tell them where to be so when they get older they”ll know everything,” Richardson said. “I try to keep everybody positive. Sometimes they have attitudes and it can be confusing so I try to calm them down and tell them what to do.”
After a basket by freshman Maggie Proffitt put Columbus ahead 72-65 with 1 minute and 26 seconds remaining in the game, the Lady Yellow Jackets tried to complete a last-minute comeback.
Back-to-back baskets by Starkville”s Kala Williams cut the margin to 72-71 with 28.2 seconds to play, then a series of turnovers enabled Shay Bonner to get her hands on the basketball for a last-second shot for the Lady Yellow Jackets.
Bonner missed the mark and Richardson got in position to grab the rebound.
“I was really happy because I thought (Bonner) was going to jump over it so I had to hurry up and jump over her,” Richardson said. “They were fouling me, but I had to get it.”
Making free throws were also a key for the Lady Falcons down the stretch as they were 10 of 11 from the line in the fourth quarter. Richardson and Kierra Erby made two free throws each and Proffitt connected on all four of her attempts in the final quarter.
“We make sure we practice those free throws every day and I have a very good free throw shooting team,” Hairston said. “I feel like if we can get to the line, we can win the game.”
Richardson and Hairston both stressed the importance for Columbus (9-7, 1-2 Class 6A, Region 1) getting a win so it wouldn”t fall to 0-3 in the division.
“It was the biggest win of the year,” Hairston said. “We just thank God for the victory. We”re happy it went the Falcon way.”
Proffitt led the Lady Falcons with 21 points, while Kiandria Patterson added 19 points, Erby scored 12 points and Courtney Cunningham chipped in 10 points.
Bonner had 20 points and Kala Williams added 16 points for Starkville (12-3, 1-2), which has dropped two-straight division games.
“It really set in that we didn”t play with a lot of focus,” Starkville coach Kristie Williams said. “We gave away opportunities, gave away 22 free throws and gave away unforced turnovers.
“Our players must do a self-evaluation to decide what do I need to do to step up and help our team become the best it can be.”
n Starkville 39, Columbus 27 (B): The Falcons used a box-in-two defensive strategy against Rashad Perkins and Edward Townsel of the Yellow Jackets.
It nearly worked.
Perkins was held to five points and even though Townsel helped picked up some of that slack with 14 points, Starkville coach Greg Carter said it”s tough to play through a game like that.
“It”s frustrating for players and it can be frustrating for coaches because every mistake is magnified,” Carter said. “I give (Columbus coach) Sammy Smith a lot of credit for that. He”s the master of controlling tempo. It was the first time this year we”ve had to play a slower-paced game. You”ve got to go through it to get used to it. You just can”t talk about it and get a feel for it.”
Starkville (15-0, 3-0) held a slim 19-18 lead at halftime, then Columbus came out in the second half to take a 20-19 lead on a basket by Michael Hall.
Perkins scored on a three-point play to give Starkville a 22-20 advantage with 5 minutes and 55 seconds left in the third quarter. The Yellow Jackets didn”t trail again.
Despite holding Starkville below 40 points, Smith was disappointed that the Falcons couldn”t show enough discipline to score more than 27 points.
“There are no such thing as moral victories, but we”re trying to do the things that I know are going to be important for us down the stretch,” Smith said. “Again, that”s the No. 1 team in the state so you can”t be mad, but we”ve got to be disciplined for longer stretches of the game. I”m proud of them. They played hard, but if you lose discipline for one second against Starkville, they”ll hurt you.”
Sophomore Gavin Ware had a double-double for Starkville with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Starkville”s Jacolby Mobley didn”t play for the second-straight game for an undisclosed reason, but Carter hopes to get him back on the court sometime soon.
“We miss him because the line up changes and the chemistry changes,” Carter said. “We”ve got to shift gears a little bit.”
Akeem Toppin had 11 points to lead Columbus (8-8, 0-3).